When wildlife species are afforded the highest protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), it’s usually thought that these species will indeed receive the international protection they need in order for their population numbers to rebound.

Unfortunately, certain companies and individuals will still view these animals in terms of dollar signs like the newly uncovered Pu Qi shark slaughterhouse in China’s Zhejiang Province.

The Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS), filmmakers of the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” joined forces with Hong Kong-based nonprofit, WildlifeRisk to help bust this factory, which has been deemed the largest whale shark slaughterhouse in the world.

Together, the two groups set up a sting operation where they posed as an international seafood trading company and covertly filmed a meeting with the factory’s owner, Li Guang.

During the meeting, Guang presented jars of shark oil to the group taken from three endangered shark species — whale sharks, great whites, and basking sharks.

According to an OPS press release, “When exporting the shark oil, Mr. Li admitted to mislabeling it as fish oil, and said that he has to smuggle other products like shark flesh out of the country.”

This footage has added an additional incriminating layer to an already growing body of evidence that WildlifeRisk has been collecting for the last four years through an undercover investigation of the slaughterhouse operation.

WildlifeRisk estimates that over 600 whale sharks — in addition to basking sharks and great white sharks — are dismantled every year at this single factory.

The nonprofit’s investigation has revealed that these sharks are then turned into a number of different products from decorative pieces at restaurants selling shark fin soup to skins sold as leather for the bag trade.

Yet, as the organization notes, the “real money” comes from the shark’s liver, where shark oil is extracted from and used for skin care products, lipstick, and Omega 3 health supplements.

However, according to CITES, the sale of these products is both illegal and unsustainable, posing a grave danger to the health of the three targeted shark populations and the ocean ecosystems they inhabit.

“How these harmless creatures, these gentle giants of the deep, can be slaughtered on such an industrial scale is beyond belief. We firmly believe the trade must stop, and it must stop now, or else these animals will eventually face extinction,” said Alex Hofford and Paul Hilton of WildLifeRisk in a joint statement.

Take an inside look the Pu Qi shark slaughterhouse with the video below created by WildlifeRisk, and be sure to spread the word about this operation so that these sharks can finally receive the justice they deserve.

Please note: Some disturbing footage follows.

Image source: WildlifeRisk