HONG KONG - Shark fins from endangered species including the giant, placid whale shark were found in a Singapore Airlines shipment to Hong Kong in May, highlighting the widespread challenges the Chinese territory faces in regulating the trade.
The 980 kgs (2,150 pounds) shipment of assorted fins came from Colombo, Sri Lanka via Singapore. Singapore Airlines, which bans shark fin cargo, said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that the shipment had been labelled as "Dry Seafood".
Hong Kong permits imports of shark fins, viewed as a delicacy, but shark species listed by the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) must be accompanied by a permit.
Hong Kong is the world's largest trading hub for shark fins and has moved to stop illegal trading.
On the fringes of the former British colony's industrial Western district where the Singapore Airline's shipment was sent to, warehouses brim with bags of shark fins while dried seafood stores are stacked high with the product.
Gary Stokes, Asia director at Sea Shepherd, who discovered the endangered fins within the shipment, said: "This is another case of misleading and deceiving. The shipment came declared as'dried seafood' so didn't flag any alarms." Singapore Airlines said it had sent out a reminder to all its stations to immediately conduct sampling checks on shipments labelled 'dried seafood' and had blacklisted the shipper. The airline was not able to provide further details.
A Sea Shepherd investigation last year revealed that Maersk , Cathay Pacific and Virgin Australia Cargo, which ban transport of shark fins, were targets of shark fin smuggling including those from endangered species.
Viewed as a status symbol, shark fin is typically consumed in a shredded jelly like soup believed to have nourishing benefits. Restaurants across Hong Kong serve the delicacy, including one of the biggest chains, Maxims, which is half-owned by a unit of conglomerate Jardine Matheson Group.
Over 70 million sharks are killed annually, pushing over a quarter of species into extinction according to WWF.
Despite activists helping to dent the volume of shark fins coming into Hong Kong by 50 per cent over the past 10 years, illegal supply has continued to boom with the government seizing thousands of kilograms including those from threatened hammerhead and oceanic white tip sharks.