Police in southwest China have arrested two men after the killing of a whale shark unleashed widespread outrage online.
The pair, surnamed Liao and Huang, will be charged with hunting an endangered animal after they allegedly killed the whale shark and sold its meat for around 2.5 yuan ($0.4) per kilogram, state-run news agency Xinhua reports.
Provincial Communist Party authorities also said the local fisheries chief would be investigated for “serious violation of discipline,” following the incident.
The case exploded online after two photos were uploaded showing the giant animal hanging from a crane, leading many to demand justice for the shark.
‘Tragedy of greed’
While Liao and Huang reportedly told police that the animal was dead and decomposing when they found it, many commenters online linked it to another shark spotted in the area, photos of which recently went viral.
Last week, oil rig workers in the area posted several photos of a whale shark they said was an “old friend,” who often came to visit the rig at this time of year.
When the photos of the dead shark were uploaded two days later, commenters quickly connected the two. “It already ended up on the table,” one said.
“This is a tragedy of greed,” another commented.
The largest fish in the world, whale sharks are listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, just a step above endangered. They are deemed a second-class nationally-protected animal in China, and must be set free if caught.
The hunting of the sharks is illegal in the Philippines, India and Taiwan, though poaching and legal fishing continues in many parts of Asia.
In 2014, fishermen in Fujian province reported the capture of a whale shark to local police, claiming they thought the animal was a “sea monster.” Photos showing the shark being driven through town atop a truck were widely circulated and attracted considerable criticism online.
The trade in illegal wildlife products, particularly rhino horn and ivory, is strong in China. Recent high-profile campaigns against the ivory trade have had an impact, campaigners say, but many have criticized Beijing for not doing enough to product endangered species.