Hundreds of Shark Skins Found in Abandoned Factory in the Azores

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On a deserted stretch of coastline on the island of Pico in the Azores is the creepiest and saddest abandoned building I have ever seen.

It is a former shark processing factory where thousands upon thousands of the animals were turned into sandpaper, oil and other by-products.

Today you can still find decaying stacks of shark skins - hundreds of them left to rot in the delipidated sheds, windows smashed and walls crumbling.

The fishermen on Pico, the second largest island in the Azores - an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic which is part of Portugal, stopped targeting sharks more than 20 years ago after local stocks had been seriously depleted. The factory is believed to have been abandoned shortly afterwards.

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Skins from sharks and rays had long been used by craftsmen as an abrasive to finish fine goods and in the 19th Century it was known as 'shagreen'. The practice dates back to ancient Egypt and was common in  Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. The skin, when treated with paraffin and sodium bicarbonate, becomes supple and was also used to cover jewel boxes, watch cases and sword handles.

Campaigners WildLifeRisk after a lengthy investigation recently found a factory in southeastern China which was still processing shark skins. Its owner claimed in 2013 that they were skinning from more than 600 whale and basking sharks a year to sell on to handbag manufacturers.

* Francesca is a marine artist, dive instructor and a PADI Ambassador

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