This study gives an account of spatial and temporal distribution of whale shark Rhincodon typus catch events in China on the basis of historical records and information obtained from interviews with fishing industry stakeholders. A total of 186 R. typus were recorded with key harvest areas identified as in Hainan and Zhejiang, and the peak catching seasons were May to June and September to October. Aspects of the R. typus trade are discussed, including products, markets and the process. The results suggest that R. typus is increasingly becoming a targeted resource in China as a consequence of fierce competition for large shark fins and an emerging local market for consumption of all body parts. Current obstacles and potential measures for sustainable exploitation and trade of R. typus are discussed.