WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Waikiki gift shop Thursday removed bottles of dead baby sharks it was selling this week after an environmental group got people to express their displeasure via Yelp and Facebook.
Phillippa Thomas, a tourist visiting Waikiki from Sydney, Australia, told Hawaii News Now she went into a Waikiki gift shop called Nani Aloha Street across from Kuhio Beach on Saturday and was shocked to see bottled dead baby sharks for sale.
"I saw all these sharks, baby sharks in a bottle and I thought, 'Oh my God, that's terrible! How can they do that?" Thomas said.
She snapped photos of the sharks and bought one for $24.95 plus tax.
"This is terrible. You might as well put a baby kitten in a bottle. It's horrible," Thomas said.
Thomas emailed the photos to her friend Oriana Kalama, founder of the Maui environmental nonprofit Ocean Defender Foundation, who posted an article on the group's website Wednesday under the headline "Disturbing Baby sharks in a bottle sold in Waikiki!"
The store had posted a sign below the sharks that said in Hawaiian mythology, sharks are believed to be aumakua or spiritual guardians.
"It was thought that keeping these aumakua in their homes will keep (them) safe from harm," the sign said.
"I was horrified and I was infuriated at the fact that they had used our cultural traditions, they had used our aumakua as a way to make more money," Kalama said.
In her online post, Kalama asked people to use Facebook and Yelp to complain to the store. And they did, so within a few hours Kalama said the store's web site was taken down and it displayed this message: "We apologize for the controversy and our management has resolved to not only stop selling the product, but to also be more aware of the products we sell."
Ken Li, manager of Nani Aloha Street, said he pulled the sharks from the shelves Thursday.
"It doesn't look nice for us either, so we take it out. Don't have to let the customer complain, you know. If it's not nice. We have the right. Just tell the vendor. Take it away," Li said.
Li claimed a vendor delivered the dead sharks to his store without his knowledge on Monday, but Thomas said that could not be true.
"That is rubbish," Thomas said. "I'm sorry. I bought this on Saturday."
After Hawaii News Now reported the incident to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Friday morning, it started an investigation and a spokeswoman says they don't know enough information to immediately determine if the sale of these sharks was illegal.
Li claimed the store had only about ten bottles of the sharks and sold very few of them. He said the sharks might be from the Philippines, but he was not sure.
When a reporter asked Li if he could see why people were upset when they saw the sharks for sale, he said, "They probably doesn't like they little baby shark in the bottle for sure."
Thomas, the visitor from Australia, said, "You can't allow this sort of thing to happen. It's bad."
Kalama and Thomas said they would monitor other gift shops on Oahu and Maui to make sure they were not selling dead baby sharks. And if any of them were, they planned to pressure them to stop selling the items.
"We encourage every other store owner to be wise and be conscious about the choices that they make when purchasing items to sell," Kalama said.