Your Shark Fin Soup Probably Contains An Endangered Species

By Max Eddy on August 9, 2012 7:12 PM EDT

Scalloped Hammerhead
A nationwide DNA study of shark fin soup found that the endangered scalloped hammerhead is being served up to Americans. (Photo: Wikipedia / Barry Peters`)

In a nationwide study funded by the Pew Environmental Foundation, researchers found DNA from 13 different shark species in bowls of shark fin soup. This includes the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark, and a host of other vulnerable species.

In the study, researchers took 32 samples from restaurants in 14 U.S. cities. Afterward, the samples were taken for analysis at Stony Brook University. In order to determine the species used in the soup, researchers used a variation on the DNA-barcoding method used at Chicago's Field Museum that could use pieces of flesh which had already been cooked.

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The researchers found that in addition to the globally endangered scalloped hammerhead shark, the samples contained species categorized as "vulnerable," such as smooth hammerheads, school sharks, and spiny dogfish. Fins from bull and copper sharks, both of which are considered "near threatened" were also used.

The wide variety of species found in the study means that diners would be hard pressed to be certain that their meal did not contain a threatened species. In a Pew press release, manager of global shark conservation Liz Karan said that the soup is seriously impacting shark species. "Sharks must be protected from overfishing and any international trade in these vulnerable and endangered species must be tightly regulated."

An Asian delicacy, shark fin soup has been criticized for the inhumane and indiscriminate harvesting practice where sharks are stripped of their fins and tossed back into the ocean still alive. The sale of shark fin has already been banned in several U.S. states.

Interestingly, the shark fin itself is nearly tasteless, instead functioning as a textural element in the dish. Despite this, demand for shark fin soup has apparently increased in recent years, perhaps because of the erroneous belief that sharks do not get cancer and questionable practice of using shark flesh as an alternative cancer treatment in humans.

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