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As is the case with many of the world’s top land predators— the great cats, bears, and wolves—the world’s sharks are misunderstood. The survival of sharks, despite their fearsome reputation, is in doubt because of the threat from humans. In general, sharks grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young over long lifetimes, leaving them exceptionally vulnerable to overexploitation and slow to recover from depletion. Because sharks are apex predators, they help keep the populations of marine life in check. Their absence poses significant risks for the health of entire ocean ecosystems. The discovery of smooth and scalloped hammerhead fins in the shark fin soup samples tested is of particular concern, given that these sharks are considered threatened with extinction. Despite the threatened status of these species, there are no international restrictions on the trade of these sharks and The discovery of smooth and scalloped hammertheir fins and only a handful of protections at the national head fins in the shark fin soup samples tested is and regional levels. In May 2012, Honduras and Costa of particular concern, given that these sharks are considered threatened with extinction. Rica announced plans to submit a proposal to list hammerhead shark specis for protection on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This listing would prevent the trade in hammerhead sharks unless it could be determined that such trade would not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild. The new DNA analysis used in this study provides a method for law enforcement personnel to identify the species of origin from processed shark fin products, such as shark fin soup, thus offering a tool for enforcing CITES listings.
Coastal shark species, such as the near-threatened bull shark, was found in bowls of soup collected in Boston and Orlando.
Endangered Shark Found in U.S. Soup Samples Truth about shark fin soup is hard to swallow
Americans who eat shark fin soup, a luxury dish costing up to $100 a bowl in the United States, might unknowingly be consuming an endangered species. According to an unprecedented scientific analysis by Stony Brook University and the Field Museum in Chicago, the shark fin soup served in 14 U.S. cities contains at-risk species, including scalloped hammerhead, which is listed by the international Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered globally.
In addition to the scalloped hammerhead, the team found 32 samples containing shark, including smooth hammerhead, school, and spiny dogfish sharks, which are all listed as vulnerable to extinction; and near-threatened species such as bull and copper sharks. The samples were collected with the help of a group of shark attack survivors and other volunteers across the country. Samples were shipped to the laboratory of Dr. Demian Chapman at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University in New York.
© Jeff Rotman
© Andy Murch
© Pew Environment Group
“The DNA testing again confirms that a wide variety of sharks are being killed for the fin trade, including seriously threatened species.” –Dr. Demian Chapman,
leader of the DNA testing at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science.
1 Clarke, S.C., et al. (2006a). “Global estimates of shark catches using trade records from commercial markets.” Ecology Letters 9:1115-1126. www.oceanconservationscience.org/press/files/ecologyletter06globalsharkestimate.pdf. 2 Clarke, S.C., Magnussen, J.E., Abercrombie, D.L., McAllister, M.K., and Shivji, M.S. (2006). “Identification of shark species composition and proportion in the Hong Kong shark fin market based on molecular genetics and trade records.” Conservation Biology, 20(1), 201-211. http://fsehs.nova.edu/ocean/ghri/forms/clarke_cb05.pdf.
Up to 73 million sharks are killed every year, primarily to support the global shark fin industry and to make shark fin soup, which is a delicacy in some Asian cultures.
For more information about the shark fin soup study and the Pew Environment Group’s Global Shark Conservation Campaign, visit www.PewEnvironment.org/Sharks.
© Jim Abernethy
Shark Fins Are a Global Issue
Up to 73 million sharks are killed every year, primarily to support the global shark fin industry and to make fin soup, which is a delicacy in some Asian cultures.1 Fourteen shark species are commonly found in the global fin market.2 As populations of those species decline in one part of the world, fin traders look elsewhere to supply the ongoing and even growing demand. Because the process of making shark fin soup eliminates the ability to easily identify the species being used, there was no way to prove what species the soup contained—until now. This study was conducted using innovative testing techniques to determine which species were being used for shark fin soup served in the United States.
Shark Fin Soup in the United States
Americans who eat shark fin soup, a luxury dish costing up to $100 a bowl in the United States, might unknowingly be consuming an endangered species.
© Shawn Heinrichs for the Pew Environment Group
The DNA of 8 shark species found in 51 bowls of soup in 14 cities
Atlanta Albuquerque Boston Chicago Denver Fort Lauderdale Houston Las Vegas Los Angeles New York Orlando San Francisco Seattle Washington, D.C.
Ca rch arh inu s b Co rac pp hy er uru s Ca rch arh inu s l Bu eu ll ca s Ge nu sC arc Sh ha ark rhi ** nu s Un ide nt ifie d* ** H Sc Sp amm allo p hy rna erhe ed lew ad ini Sp Ham S m hy rna me oot zyg rhea h ae d na Sh Isu o rus rtfi ox n M yri ak nc o hu s Sq Sp ua iny lus D ac ogfi an thi sh as Ga leo rhi nu Sc s g ho ale ol us e g Blu lau e ca
2 1 3 3
1 2 4 3 2 3
Shark fins dry in the sun before processing. Thirty percent of the world’s shark species are threatened or near-threatened with extinction
What’s in the Soup?
After the fin is removed from the shark, it is dried and chemically treated to remove the skin, and the fine strands of cartilage are then cooked at high temperatures. Until recently, this processing made it impossible to determine which species of shark were used in any given sample of soup or even whether it contained shark at all. A new technique, developed by scientists from the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science The most common species detected was the blue shark (Prionace and from the Pritzker Laboratory at the Field glauca), an open-ocean shark that is heavily exploited worldwide. Museum of Chicago, now allows for the accurate identification of processed, cooked, and treated samples such as those in shark fin soup. The test focused on ceratotrichia, the cartilage from shark fins that is the prime ingredient in fin soup. This technique allowed for species-level identification in approximately 70 percent of the soup samples. Of the 51 bowls of soup tested, eight different shark species were identified. Two bowls of soup contained threatened hammerhead shark species: the smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena) and scalloped hammerhead (S. lewini). The diversity of species found in the soup, including these species of concern to conservationists, suggests that consumers have no way of knowing what is in their soup and whether the shark species they are eating is in peril.
© Jim Abernethy
Endangered = Red Vulnerable = Orange Near Threatened = Yellow Number = bowls
*Global Status: International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species **Shark: Genus Carcharhinus: Shark identified to genus but could be one of several species or a species not in the database. ***Unidentified: DNA bar-coding techniques did not work on sample.
The Testing Methods
To identify the species of origin from any processed animal product, scientists previously relied on DNA “bar-coding,” using a short genetic sequence from a standard genome similar to the product bar codes used in supermarkets. This technique allows analysts to distinguish between wildlife products that can otherwise be very difficult to differentiate, such as fish fillets, whale meat, rhinoceros horns, and others that may look the same to the untrained eye. However, the DNA in shark fin soup is degraded by heat and chemicals, which makes it nearly impossible to identify samples with standard DNA bar-coding techniques. Scientists at Stony Brook University and the Pritzker Laboratory The high success rate of this newly developed teamed up to solve this problem in early 2012. They developed testing technique is a potential new tool for enforcing regulations on the trade in shark fins in places where a way to fine-tune the sequence of degraded DNA fragments, fins are banned. and in an unprecedented field test, they identified the species in shark fin soup collected from restaurants in 14 U.S. cities: Albuquerque, N.M.; Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Denver; Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Fla.; Houston; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; New York; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington.
On the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, the scalloped hammerhead is listed as endangered globally, and the smooth hammerhead is listed as vulnerable globally.
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