KOTA KINABALU - Wildlife advocates are outraged over reports that a juvenile whale shark had been captured and killed at Marudu Bay, about 130km from here. They want stern action against the killers.
However, in Tawau, another whale shark that was caught by a fisherman, was released unharmed.
The culprits should be prosecuted for killing an endangered species, said World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia executive director and chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma.
He said it was a great disappointment when news of the incident spread after someone tipped off the authorities about the matter.
It was reported that fishing enthusiasts captured the juvenile whale shark off Marudu Bay on Wednesday night and towed it to Kampung Teritipan, where it was chopped into pieces and loaded onto a lorry that headed for a fish meal fertiliser factory in Tuaran the next day.
Villagers kept the large pectoral, dorsal and tail fins worth hundreds of ringgit in the market as shark fins.
The whale shark (Rhicodon typus) - the biggest fish in the world - is facing extinction and such action is seen as a blatant, open violation of Malaysian and international laws.
"The fish has been on the Fisheries Department's endangered species list since 1999 (under Control of Endangered Species of Fish Regulations), which bans harassment, capture, killing and transportation of this species," Dr Dionysius said.
"If it is true the meat was sent to a fish meal factory, then prosecution should be pursued by the relevant authorities."
The capture is banned under a schedule in the Fisheries Act 1985, together with species in the dugong, whale, dolphin, giant clams and sawfish groups.
In the other case, a fisherman managed to free another whale shark trapped in his net on Friday morning.
Mustapha M, 50, was fishing in waters 15km off Tawau when he felt a tug on his boat.
"I turned around and saw a large spotted fish measuring about several metres in length. It looked like a whale, so I decided to return nearer to the coast to ask for help as I was not sure what it was," he said.
Mustapha said he also sought help as he was afraid the fish might turn aggressive.
After reaching the village, Mustapha contacted district fishery enforcement officer Irwan Arjana Awang as he gathered some villagers to help release the 4m-long fish.
"We eventually found out that it was a whale shark and were glad that the villagers have released it," said Arjana, adding that the fish was not injured and managed to swim to open waters once the net was cut.
He said it was normal for whales and whale sharks to be found there as the sea was deep.
"However, they are generally harmless creatures," he added.