The biggest threat to whale sharks is fisheries. Target fisheries cater to demands for whale shark products, such as fins for trophy displays, and liver oil for cosmetic and medicinal products. A recent exposure of the biggest shark processing factory in Zhejiang, China revealed that over 600 whale sharks were being processed per year. This indicates that whale shark products are still regularly smuggled out of the Philippines through an extensive global trade network.
Whale sharks are also frequently caught as by-catch. By-catch reports mostly come from purse-seine fisheries that use whale sharks as an indicator of skipjack tuna presence. Once whale sharks are sighted, fisherman assume tuna are nearby and set nets in a perimeter around them. The sharks become entangled in the nets and perish.
The surface-swimming behavior of whale sharks also makes them vulnerable to injuries from boat strikes. Many sharks exhibit propeller cuts, lacerations, and other scars from boats.
The whale shark is classified as “Vulnerable to extinction” under the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and is protected internationally under the Convention on Migratory Species (Appendix II) and Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (Appendix II).
In 1998, the Philippines became the first Southeast Asian country to pass a national law protecting the whale shark (FAO 193, Series of 1998), following the poaching of 6 individuals from the then newly discovered feeding aggregation in Donsol, Sorsogon.