Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Li Na and the whale shark

A couple of days ago Li Na won the Australian Open.  This is her third appearance in the final and her first win.  Many people are happy for her.  She is, of course, an excellent tennis player, having won the French Open previously.  She is tenacious, independent-spirited, gracious and has a humorous side.  The Chinese are very proud of her.  She also projects a very positive image of modern day China. 

Today, however, newspapers post bloody images of whale sharks being slaughtered in Zhejiang.  Huge shark fins are hacked off to make shark fin soup.  Skins are used as leather.  Liver oils processed into supplements and beauty products. It is estimated 600 whale sharks are butchered there just in one factory each year.  How long will it be before the docile and majestic animal is extinct?

I saw whale sharks in person for the first time at the Atlanta Aquarium in 2010 and was mesmerized. I had to go back again the following day to see them again, and I was still mesmerized, spending hours there.  A whale shark is a type of shark, but it is very different from killers such as the great white, or tiger.  It is huge, and can be as long as 40 feet.  But it eats algae and small fish, krill, ...  It presents no danger to humans other than its size.  In that sense it is more like a whale, hence the name.  It is also called butanding. It is a vulnerable species.  Many countries, including Philippines, India and Taiwan has banned the fishing of whale shark for commercial purposes.   Putting them in a aquarium is cruel enough.  Now they are being butchered in the hundreds.  

Such is the ugly side of modern China. 

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