Whale sharks, it appears, are fighting a losing battle. Though whale sharks are officially listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as well as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), recently, a "shark slaughterhouse" was uncovered by conservation activists in the Zhejiang proving in China.

The slaughterhouse is said to be one of the biggest in the world and the activists who have investigated the matter say that the factory is responsible for the deaths of around 600 whale sharks every year.

Whale sharks are often referred to as the biggest fish in the world and adult specimens often reach 40 feet in length. While current populations are unknown, the species is considered as endangered by conservation organizations. The activists who exposed the whale shark operations in Zhejiang, are Paul Hilton and Alex Hofford, who followed up on information provided by a local wildlife conservation group.

"We went to Pu Qi three times in the last three years, and on each occasion the scale of the slaughter was truly staggering, said Hilton and Hofford in a joint statement. "How these harmless creatures, these gentle giants of the deep, can be slaughtered on such an industrial scale is beyond belief. It's even more incredible that this carnage is all for the sake of non-essential lifestyle props such as lipsticks, face creams, health supplements and shark fin soup. We are calling on China's regulatory authorities to enforce the international agreements on this illegal activity now, before these animals are brought closer to extinction."

Aside from whale sharks, the pair also discovered that the factory was processing the carcasses of great white sharks and basking sharks. It should be noted that the two latter species are also considered as highly protected species due to their alarmingly low populations in the wild.

According to the information gathered by Hilton and Hofford, Chinese fishermen catch the sharks in fishing grounds in the South China Sea. Whale sharks often pass through the area during their regular migrations to southern waters like the Philippines and Indonesia. Despite the fact that the presence of these sharks provide eco-tourism revenues worth around $47.5 million, many unscrupulous companies still hunt these majestic creatures to profit from the lucrative trade in whale shark based health supplements and oils.

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