Kasumba Island, Indonesia (MAY 27, 2016) – Indonesian government agencies, supported by the Wildlife Crimes Unit (WCU) of the Wildlife Conservation Society, confiscated and released back into the wild two illegally caught whale sharks from a major supplier of large marine megafauna to the international wildlife trade.

The investigation is being led by Indonesia’s Ministry for Marine Affairs and Fisheries, and includes the Ambon and Labuan Lombok’s Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Monitoring Taskforce and the Maritime Patrol from the Maluku Police.

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is a protected species in Indonesia and is listed as "Vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. International trade of whale sharks is regulated under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

 “The bust is testament to the dedication of the Indonesian government, the work of the WCU, and the partnerships that the WCU has been building across Indonesia to combat illegal trade in Indonesia’s threatened marine megafauna,” said Dr. Noviar Andayani. “During 2016, WCU has supported 7 marine cases involving manta plates, sea shells, sea turtles, and whale sharks.”

The company PT. Air Biru Maluku, owned by an Indonesian mid-ranking military officer and a Singaporean, caught the two whale sharks, around 4 meters each in length, near the island of Kasumba in Maluku province in Eastern Indonesia. The bust took place at facilities managed by PT. Air Biru Maluku on Kasumba Island.

The sharks were being kept in submerged pens.  Once discovered by officials on May 26, the sharks were released back into the wild unharmed.

The suspects had recommendation letters from government authorities that allowed them to collect and breed ornamental fish. They were applying for permits to be a conservation institution that will allow them to capture, breed and export the whale sharks, dolphin, and manta but this had not yet been granted. Under Indonesian law and regulations, whale sharks are a protected species and are not classified as ornamental fish.

Arrests have yet to be made at the time of this report, but any offenders will be charged under the Indonesian Fisheries Law number 31/2004 which carries a maximum penalty of 6 years in prison and fines of up to IDR 1.5 billion (approximately 115,000 USD). Under the Indonesian Fisheries Minister Decree No. 18/2013 whale shark is designated a protected species throughout the country’s nearly 6 million square kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The bust followed an 18-month investigation into a sophisticated operation, run by PT. Air Biru Maluku (also known as PT. Blue Aquatic), which the WCU was first alerted to in late 2014.

WCU investigations over the last few months have suggested that the suspects illegally caught large marine megafauna (whale sharks, manta rays, cetaceans) for sale to facilities being built in China and elsewhere in SE Asia. 

WCS’s Wildlife Crimes Unit is supported by the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, the UK Government's IWT Challenge Fund, the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative,  the United States International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Facility (CEPF). The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.

For additional photos and descriptions, click here.