The video is hard to watch. Cringeworthy doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. It’s not so much that I’m against eating sharks, because I’ve done so myself. If you’re harvesting them responsibly, within the law, and not killing one every other Tuesday, I have no issue. But a popular Chinese video blogger who goes by Tizi recently crossed more lines than a 5-year-old on a party boat when she documented the illegal purchase, butchering, and cooking of a great white shark from start to finish. The problem? Great whites are one of the most highly protected fish swimming on this planet.
Throw Another Jaws on the Barbie
CBS News reports that Tizi’s culinary stunt dates back to July 2022, when she originally posted the video on Douyin, which is a Chinese version of TikTok. Authorities in Nanchong, a city in Sichuan province, eventually found the video and determined that she had violated China’s Wild Animal Protection Law, according to a statement released on Jan. 28. They determined that Tizi, who’s real name is Jin Moumou, had purchased the shark for 7,700 yuan (or around $1,142 USD) through an online marketplace known as Taobao. After confirming the species of the shark by taking DNA samples, Jin was fined 125,000 yuan, or roughly $18,500, and the sellers of the sharks were arrested.
I don’t speak the language, so I can’t tell you what Tizi is saying during the video. But if I had to guess, she thought cooking a whole shark would simply make a great video and was not concerned with the conservation status of the species or the illegality of possessing it. There is, of course, no pass given for ignorance when it comes to the law, and if documenting the purchase of a protected species isn’t bad enough, her preparation of it borders on slapstick.
Canned laughter is piped in as Tizi and an older woman start by dumping gallons of oil into a giant wok. The entire tail section of the juvenile shark is scored and roasted over an open fire while upbeat pop music blasts. The whole front half, nose to pectoral fins, is dropped into the sizzling oil while Tizi keeps adding ingredients until they start sloshing out of the wok. The video ends with them chowing down on bowls of white shark in an overly ravenous way that I guess is supposed to be funny.
At one point in the video, Tizi picks up the entire cooked tail section and takes a bite like it’s a turkey leg. Tizi also reportedly says: “It may look vicious, but its meat is truly very tender.” That part I believe.
Twenty Thousand a Plate
Of all the shark species, Makos and threshers are the most prized for their meat, at least in the United States. The reason for this is their muscle structure. All sharks urinate through their skin, and their bloodlines—the strips of dark red muscle running down the body—holds the ammonia they produce. The closer that bloodline is to the skin, the more ammonia-flavored the meat will taste. The bloodlines of makos and threshers, however, are deeper and thinner, closer to the body cavity, which means their flesh is much cleaner and ammonia free.
A great white’s red muscle structure is similar to that of a mako shark, which would likely make its meat pretty mild. Regardless, as a lifelong saltwater angler, it’s jarring to watch Tizi’s video. Mainly because it’s common knowledge in the fishing world that these sharks are off-limits and should be treated with reverence. Occasionally, great whites have been misidentified as extra-large makos and brought to tournament weigh-ins, inevitably making the news and bringing shame (and charges) to the angler.
Great whites have been protected on the Pacific Coast of the U.S. since 1994, and in American Atlantic waters since 1997. Not only is it illegal to possess them—you aren’t even supposed to target them. If one is hooked inadvertently, it is to be released as soon as possible after being identified, even if that means cutting the line to avoid a prolonged fight.
Whites are protected in many other countries, including Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and, of course, China. Still, my hunch is that Tizi’s great white isn’t the first—and likely won’t be the last—sold in a Chinese market.
That fact that the video was posted on social media essentially forces the authorities to act. Had there been no video, it’s likely nothing would have happened. Perhaps this will prompt the Chinese government to actively hunt around at seafood markets looking for more illegal species, though I wouldn’t count on it. Congrats to Tizi, though, for documenting what could be on of the most expensive seafood meals ever, and in doing so I hope she learned the most important lesson of modern times: If you’re going to do illegal stuff, don’t film it for social media.