Sharks with dorsal fins apparently cut by unknown individuals were spotted by divers swimming in top dive sites of Palau, angering concerned individuals especially that the country has declared its waters a shark sanctuary.
The news was first brought to the attention of the public when a famous PADI-certified diving company in Palau, Neco Marine, posted on their Facebook page on October 29 some photos and video footage of sharks with freshly cut fins.
Retired professional diver turned hobbyist Mandy Etpison and Neco Group Vice President Iked Thijs Etpison, who is also a diver, said that judging from the clean cut on the sharks, they could tell that the dorsal fins were deliberately removed using a sharp object, most likely a knife.
The Etpisons said that they had been diving a lot in the last two weeks when they started to notice at least about eight different sharks in different dive sites whose dorsal fins were uniformly removed by still unknown entities.
These injured sharks can be seen in famous dive sites frequented by local divers and tourist divers such as the German Channel, Ulong Channel, Blue Corner, and others.
“Somebody cut off only the dorsal fins, and very straight, so obviously they’re done with a knife. It’s not an [accidental] injury or anything, it’s done on purpose,” Ms. Mandy said.
The two avid divers expressed concern that these could take a toll on Palau’s tourist divers who see the sea creatures and photograph them.
The divers immediately reported it to Koror State Rangers and showed them the photographs and video footage of the sharks.
The concerned divers could only guess two possibilities of the mysterious disappearance of the sharks’ dorsal fins – that they could have been taken to make shark fin soup, a traditional Chinese soup dish whose origin could be traced back to the Song Dynasty, and or, they could have been fished by some boat operators at the dive spot.
“Either way, the rangers need to look after it because it does not look good for our tourism,” Mandy said.
A TIP OF THE ICEBERG
While the news has put the spotlight on the preservation of sharks, the concern turns out to be just a tip of the iceberg when divers said that the two more than 100-year-old giant clams in Ulong Channel that are very famous to tourists were also gone and suspected to be taken by poachers.
The divers started to notice the famous giant clams disappeared in about three months ago.
“Usually the divers would take pictures of those two clams and somebody took them so all the dive operators and the boat operators know about that incident,” Mandy explained, emphasizing that those sea species are irreplaceable in value given their age.
“There should be a very high fine on that or somebody should lose their tour license if they can figure out who did it. And it’s not easy either [to take them out] because they’re heavy so somebody must know about that,” Mandy expressed.
Mandy and Iked also took notice of some jewelry shops in downtown Koror that are allegedly selling shells of Hawksbill Turtles, which are supposed to be protected under a law passed to ban its harvesting.
Some restaurants also allegedly display tanks containing giant clams that appeared to be not cultured.
“I hope [Division of] Fish and Wildlife [Protection] can be more vigilant and maybe check some of those places and find out where they get their supplies because it is almost certainly illegal poaching,” Mandy said.
After reporting the scene to Koror State, who has jurisdiction of some of the famous diving sites in Palau, the Neco Marine divers said that they had a meeting with the State Rangers on October 29.
“We had a very good meeting with the rangers yesterday and they’re trying to prepare boats out there and they also don’t want to see this obviously,” Mandy said.
The Koror State government issued a press statement saying that they had collaborated with the Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection (DFWP) to investigate the case and also to ensure that the persons responsible will be prosecuted.
Koror State cited two state and national laws that criminalize the act such as the RPPL 9-49 (181) which provides that “it shall be unlawful for any person to fish…within Palau’s waters for any shark, or any part of any such, or to remove the fins of or otherwise intentionally mutilate or injure any such shark, or possess any part of any shark, including the fins” and the KSPL No. K8-191-2007 (2) that states “no person may engage in any fishing activities, and no person may possess any fish or fishing gear, within one-hundred (100) yards of any dive site in Koror State waters.”
“Everyone is asked to please ensure the protection of our natural resources by educating people on our laws, and to report any violations. We all have an interest in protecting our natural environment, and we ask for the public’s cooperation and partnership,” the statement read.
The Koror State also urges the public to report any information pertaining to the matter by contacting Koror State Rangers Office at 488-2150, Koror State Conservation and Law Enforcement Director Jennifer Olegeriil at 775-5014, DFWP at 488-2487 and its Chief Temdik Ngirblekuu at 775-0214, emphasizing that informants will be kept anonymous.
The state government said it will issue a reward to any persons that could give information that will result into the arrest and prosecution of individuals who are responsible in committing the illegal acts.
Palau was the first country to designate its exclusive economic zone of 630,000 square kilometers as a shark sanctuary in September 2009, banning shark fishing.