Some At-Risk Shark Species Are Ending Up In U.S. Soups

Aug 10, 2012

Sharks are some of the most feared and fascinating animals on the planet. They've had their own week of awareness-raising and celebration on the Discovery Channel for the last 25 years. But some say they are also delicious — as in the Chinese delicacy — shark fin soup.

As we've reported before, shark finning to meet demand for the soup is a booming business: An estimated 73 million sharks are killed each year. In the U.S., several states have taken steps to block sales of the crunchy, salty soup, which can sell for up to $100 a bowl.

But just what kind of shark fins are ending up in the soup in the U.S.? The Pew Environment Group's got a chart for that (see above). The folks at Pew looked at 51 bowls in 14 cities, and it turns out that more than a few of the fins are from species that are considered threatened or endangered.

It's pretty impressive that the scientists were able to find any usable DNA at all in a highly processed food product like soup. "Once the fins are cut off the sharks, they are dried in the sun. Then they are often shipped long distances, chemically treated, broken down and then cooked," Demian Chapman, a biologist with the Institute for Conservation Science at Stony Brook University who worked with Pew on the study, tells The New York Times' Green blog. "That's not exactly the ideal thing to do to DNA," he adds.

The researchers had to devise their own DNA sleuthing methods; Chapman hopes law enforcement officials will adopt these techniques in states with restrictions on the sale, trade and possession of shark fins. Five states ban the shark fin trade — California, Illinois, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington — and several others are considering limits.

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