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Vietnam Embassy in Chile Caught Drying Shark Fins on Roof

Last week, at least a hundred potentially illegal shark fins could be spotted drying on the roof of the Vietnamese embassy in Chile.

On January 13, neighbors of the Vietnamese embassy, located in Providencia in Chile’s Santiago Province, began to recognize the unmistakable stench of seafood before noticing shark fins drying on the commercial office building’s roof. They told El Mastrador, a local newspaper (link is in Spanish) that over the course of five days the number of fins gradually increased until they numbered at least 100. Photos from January 18 and witness accounts suggest that the fins were freshly cut.

"I cannot believe it, I always wanted to know where the fins were dried, but I never thought that in the middle of Providencia, this is the first time I see something like that in Chile!", Alex Muñoz, Latin America director of Pristine Seas., National Geographic Society relayed in Spanish.

The shark fins could be seen from afar on January 18. Photo via El Mastrador.

Shark finning, which involves cutting the large dorsal fin off a live fish and throwing the rest of the body back into the sea, was made illegal in Chile in 2011. Fins can only be removed from already deceased animals, and then only on land.

Chilean and Vietnamese officials initially scrambled to verify the photos and get to the bottom of the situation. The confusion was exacerbated by the embassy lacking an ambassador and Chilean claims that sometimes the office’s phone goes unanswered for a month.

Late on Tuesday, however, an official statement was released by the embassy stating that fins were genuine and purchased by a relative of one of the diplomats. He claimed that he bought them in a Santiago market and was planning to cook them for his family.

However, the fins were removed on January 19. Photo via El Mastrador.

It is unclear if the incident will have implications for the diplomatic relations between the two nations. Even if the fins had been illegally harvested and obtained by embassy members, or belong to a protected species, the criminal act could be covered by diplomatic "inviolability.” 

According to The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), nearly 100 million sharks are killed each year, largely to support China and Vietnam’s hunger for shark fin soup. Many claim the expensive delicacy helps with rejuvenation, appetite enhancement, and blood nourishment.

After looking at the images, Max Bellow, a conservationist who works with the Pew Charitable Trust, said, "Sharks have been around for over 400 million years, [and] are today in serious danger of extinction, mainly due to a soup that is nothing more than a luxury, which has no nutritional value or taste.”

[Top photo via El Mostrador]


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