Workers remove the fin from a female mako shark on a beach in Santa Rosalia, Mexico, in an undated picture.
Many of the hammerhead sharks that are butchered to feed Asian demand for shark-fin soup start their lives in American waters, a new forensic study shows.
For the first time, scientists have used DNA from shark fins to determine where they came from. The researchers traced finds from the scalloped hammerhead shark species—collected at the world’s biggest fin market in Hong Kong—back to rare populations in the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific oceans.
The trade in shark fins supplies Asian markets with the key ingredient in the luxury dish shark-fin soup. The practice claims up to 73 million sharks annually, including up to 3 million hammerheads. The finless fish are usually tossed back into the ocean to die.
Because the vast flow of shark fins to global markets usually operates in secret, conservationists have been left in the dark about where the sharks are killed. And governments can’t control the trade if they don’t know how many sharks are being taken from their waters.
The shark-fin market is “like this big Wild West show [that] no one is monitoring,” said study leader Demian Chapman, now at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at New York State’s Stony Brook University.
But the new DNA technique, which Chapman worked on at Nova Southeastern University, may be a tool for controlling the shark trade, he said.
Another awesome way that science is being applied to conservation. The more we know, the more we can do about it!