- Locals in Indonesia’s West Java province reportedly cut up and ate a whale shark that washed up on a beach last week.
- Authorities have deplored the incident, noting that the species is protected under Indonesian law.
- Marine animal strandings are common in Indonesia as its waters serve as both a habitat and an important migratory route for dozens of species.
JAKARTA — Conservation authorities in Indonesia have condemned a recent incident in which a beached whale shark was cut up and reportedly consumed by locals on the western coast of the island of Java.
The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) was found dead by residents living near Cirarangan Sindangbarang Beach in West Java province on the morning of Sept. 26. When officials arrived after having received a report of the stranding, they found that the animal had already been cut up into small pieces, some of which were said to have been eaten by the locals. It was estimated at between 4-6 meters long (13-20 feet) and weighing up to 2 metric ton, indicating it was most likely a juvenile shark.
Whale sharks are fully protected under Indonesian law, and even consuming one that is already dead is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and 100 million rupiah ($7,000) in fines.
“Any kinds of use with extractive nature of whale sharks, including the use of their body parts, are banned by the law,” Pamuji Lestari, the acting director-general of marine zoning at the fisheries ministry, said in a statement published Sep. 28.
The incident in West Java mirrors an occurrence in May when locals on the island of Bali also reportedly cut up a stranded whale shark. “It looked like it had undergone surgery,” said Dewa Gde Tri Bodhi Saputra, one of the first responders from the local marine resources management department. “The contents of its stomach were gone, its gills were partially removed.”
Strandings of marine animals are common in Indonesia, home to the longest coastline in Asia. The archipelago’s waters serve as both a habitat and an important migratory route for dozens of species. But little is known about why these strandings occur. Some expert theories include starvation due to ingestion of marine debris; being lost from their groups; and ship strikes in busy shipping lanes.
Indonesia has recently been training locals to carry out immediate rescue operations for stranded marine animals to keep them alive while waiting for conservation authorities to arrive. It also strongly discourages locals from cutting up and consuming any body parts, citing health risks. However, the initiative has not yet reached many of the locations where strandings are most common, due to budget constraints and a lack of marine animal experts at local levels.
The local marine resources management department in West Java said it would look into the latest incident and plan a public awareness-raising program to discourage the consumption of protected sea species.
The global population of whale sharks has declined by more than 50% in the last several decades, and the species is now considered endangered by the IUCN, the global conservation authority. The main threats to the world’s biggest fish include oil and gas drilling activities, fisheries, and recreational activities.
Banner image of a whale shark courtesy of Dudarey Mikhail.
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