An estimated 2,000 sharks have been slaughtered in waters off Malpelo Island, located near Colombia's Pacific coast, according to Colombian environmental authorities.

Hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini), Galápagos and Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) may have been poached from the Malpelo wildlife sanctuary for their prized fins.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006, Malpelo is a haven for Silky and Hammerhead sharks, among other rare marine species such as tuna and sea turtles. However, illegal fishing in the sanctuary area poses a great threat to these creatures.

According to Colombia-based Malpelo Foundation, which works towards preserving the biodiversity of the region, the abundance of shark species attracts illegal fishing inside the protected area.

It is, primarily, international fishing boats that violate environmental laws governing the area, causing considerable damage to marine populations, the foundation claims.

This recent mass killing of sharks, reported by a team of divers studying the animal in Malpelo, was carried by Costa Rican fleets, said a top environmental official.

I received a report, which is really unbelievable, from one of the divers who came from Russia to observe the large concentrations of sharks in Malpelo. They saw a large number of fishing trawlers entering the zone illegally, said Sandra Bessudo, environmental advisor to Colombia's president, to The Guardian.

The divers reported of a total of ten fishing boats, all of which were flying the Costa Rican flag, Bessudo added.

She said the divers saw the carcasses of loads of finless sharks and working on an average of 200 sharks captured per boat, as many as 2,000 sharks may have been slaughtered.

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A basket full of shark fins is seen at a private dock in Puntarenas, north of San Jose October 12, 2010 (L); and bodies of sharks are seen at a beach in Manta, Ecuador, January 6, 2007. The sharks are hunted for their fins, which are exported to Asia to make soup. PHOTO: REUTERS

All for a Soup?

Shark fins are used in making shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy, which is in demand across restaurants in China, Thailand, Taiwan and other South Asian countries. Shark-fin soup is eaten on special occasions and was a prized dish in ancient Chinese culture because it was expensive and rare.

In many parts of Asia, shark fin soup is a symbol of generosity and wealth but the hunting of sharks has depleted shark populations by as much as 90 per cent, with around 100 million sharks caught each year for their fins. This is, unfortunately, a lucrative industry involving.

Sharks are being caught illegally across the world, despite many countries having banned their killing. A large percentage of the harvested fins are exported to Asia, with Hong Kong, reportedly, the world's largest importer, according to Reuters.

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A cook prepares a shark-fin dish at a Thai restaurant in Singapore August 1, 2000 (R); and Braised Shark's fin with Saffron Chicken Sauce is served at Hong Kong October 13, 2006. Photo: REUTERS

Some Reports from Reuters:

Environmental groups across the world are lobbying for more protection for sharks from fishermen who see a lucrative business in exporting their prized fins. Protesters in South Asian nations such as India, Taiwan and Singapore have also attempted to create awareness about declining shark populations.

A lively campaign in India, conducted last decade, by a wildlife group and a popular religious leader, helped reduce the killing of whales - the world's largest fish - which migrate to the country's west coast from faraway Africa, to breed. However, despite a government ban in 2001, Indian fishermen slaughter at least 1,000 whale sharks every year and make a fortune by exporting the fins, meat and oil to Southeast Asia, say wildlife activists.

Australia has spent tens of millions of dollars boosting its border security to deal with Indonesian fishermen venturing into Australian waters to fish for lucrative shark fins because they have depleted their own stocks.

In 2001, international environment watchdog Wild Aid, claimed that shark fins sold throughout Asia and the rest of the world contain dangerously high levels of mercury. Sharks are more dangerous to humans dead than alive, said Wild Aid, who warned people that Asia's love affair with soup made from shark fins poses serious health risks, with levels of the poisonous heavy metal as high as 42 times the quantity acceptable to humans. However, there is no evidence if this has helped reduce hunting of sharks.

 

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British performance artist Alice Newstead suspends from shark hooks pierced through her back at a cosmetic shop in San Francisco, California August 24, 2011. The act was performed to bring attention to the declining global population of sharks due to demand for shark fin soup and other shark products. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith