Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
Shark Fin CSI

Shark Fin CSI

In 2012, Illinois became the first non-coastal state to ban the distribution, sale, and trade of shark fins like this one. At first glance this may seem odd considering there’s no ocean anywhere in sight, but not when you acknowledge that many inland states contribute to the decline of shark populations by importing shark fins for restaurant delicacies. Shark fin soup is not only a traditional cuisine for many Eastern cultures, it’s also an incredibly lucrative menu item, selling for up to $100 per bowl. Every year, some 100 million sharks are caught, their fins cut off, and then they’re dumped back—still alive—into the ocean to drown or bleed to death in order to meet the demands of this industry. The biggest challenge for scientists and crime-stoppers alike was the inability for anyone to be able to determine the species of sharks being caught because the genetic information becomes heavily degraded during the food preparation process. That type of process was used on this fin, which is why it’s white. Most fins are dried and chemically treated before being cooked at high temperatures, ruining the chance to be able to extract viable information from confiscated specimens. Therefore it’s impossible to tell what kind of sharks are being imported, resulting in a complete lack of regulation on protected or endangered species—which is to say, most sharks. So, what are scientists to do? Well, biologists from the Field’s Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Evolution—the DNA lab right behind me— —teamed up with the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University in order to develop a new method for testing samples that had become deteriorated during the cooking process. Field biologists were able to extract identifying DNA markers from soup collected from 14 different cities around the United States and determined that 32 different species of shark were being exploited for the luxury food industry. This including smooth hammerheads, school sharks, and spiny dogfish which are all vulnerable to extinction according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. When Chicago Police made the rounds to offending grocery stores and restaurants, they spotted this massive fin on display in a shop window. Thanks to these innovative methods, our scientists were able to test and compare its DNA markers to those of known species and determine that it’s the fin from a whale shark, a protected, vulnerable species. So, there you have it: museums helping to fight crime with science.

100 comments on “Shark Fin CSI

  1. I had shark fin soup once. I didn't know it was a shark fin. I literally thought it was fish noodles since it had the same texture and taste 

  2. So glad the Australian fishing industry has way better standards than many.  The company I work for has been fighting this way of fishing for shark fin for ages.  We use the entire shark here (and it's fished in areas where shark populations are not in danger) and not just the fins.

  3. The reality of the HUMAN FOOD CHAIN MACHINE from ocean, ranch, farm and factory should be the concentration of attention during Shark Week. Millions and millions vs perhaps several dozens(over decades)!!! WHO ARE THE REAL KILLERS IN OUR OCEANS? Not to mention the multitude of other species that we have fished and continue to fish for right into near extinction!!! We human beings are LOSERS and will reap the rewards of our behavior and attitudes toward all of the other species that we SHARE this planet with in due course!

  4. once again this will not do anything to stop the hunting of sharks. Eastern countries are going to do the same thing they have always done for a millenia. they will continue to catch sharks they will continue to have shark fin soup. they believe that it has healing powers. you cannot fight a thousand years of traditions and beliefs. when they start getting mercury poisoning maybe they will realize that is bullshit. until then you can pass all the laws and regulations you like it will not stop them. if my mother was dying of cancer and I believed that shark fin soup was her only hope. that shark is going down. just stating the truth

  5. Emily, I just want you to know that you have been doing an amazing job with these shark videos this week. Probably some of my favorite recent work from you.

  6. This is one of the many horrible traditions that we Chinese still follow that makes me hate traditions.

    Some of my family members have started to shy away from sharks fin soup after realising that not only that it is endangering sharks, it's also has no nutrition and is even potentially poisonous with mercury.

  7. i might be in my own bubble, but in Australia we have Flake (a general term for small species of sharks). it used to be so cheap most fish n chip shops would use Flake for the Generic battered fish. is that considered less of a problem because a larger portion of the shark is used to justify the fishing?

  8. Just to clarify, shark fin soup isn't eaten for its medicinal properties the way rhino horns are used. It is simply a status symbol for the chinese e.g. to proclaim that they are wealthy enough to afford a bowl for everyone at the wedding.

  9. Stony Brook University! I live near there! They have a fantastic science department, especially with the mentioned marine biology, which works closely with local marine conservation efforts, like the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. They also have a really good physical science department, which works closely with Brookhaven National Laboratory (10 minutes from where I live), which, until when the CERN collider was built in Europe, had the largest particle collider on Earth. They also have a really good paleontology department, and on their premises have displays of fossils they find! Sorry, just some local science pride…

  10. Notice how the federal government is not even on the radar when it comes to protecting the environment??
    I guess not enough sharks bribed, uh, er, I mean, made campaign contributions to Congressmen.

  11. I don't support the hunting of sharks for their fins, but someone I spoke to years ago brought up a point that I still think about today: it's one thing to ban shark fins from being bought/sold, but in doing so, aren't you also banning a part of our culture? We're both Chinese, by the way, and shark fin soup is often eaten at special events such as weddings, because, you know, it's so darn expensive.

    And while I would be more than happy to eat artificial, gelatin based shark fin soup instead of the real deal, some people just won't. Some Chinese who are more 'traditional' (like the person I spoke to), won't dare touch the fake stuff, because it implies you're too poor to afford real shark fin. To them, prestige is more important than the value of a shark's role in the ecosystem. And I just don't know how to feel about that. :/

  12. No matter how important or rich you are or how special or delicacy the food is, that's no excuse to exterminate species. Humans are just greedy creatures.

  13. Good! It beyond infuriates me what happens to sharks for their fins. Imagine what dying like that is like. More people need to realize that if we kill and destroy our oceans, we quite literally and directly kill ourselves. Id love a job where I legally go after these people and directly fight to stop them.

  14. People cut off the sharks' fins and throw them back in the ocean alive??? That's seriously fucked up. And disgusting. Those "fishermen" should have their arms cut off and be thrown on the ocean to die.

  15. If the methods and materials to quickly apply prosthetic fins on the harvested sharks could be devised and mass produced I wonder what kind of incentive it would take to get the fishermen to use them.

  16. I am also a Chinese and living in a country where traditional Chinese culture is still practiced. Yes, shark fin soup is a very common dish in a typical Chinese 8-course meal. Such meals happen quite frequently too, especially during Chinese New Year, special occasions and even fortnightly family dinners.

    I take a stand during these meals by refusing to eat it. Yeah, relatives will talk and even my parents laugh at me. Some might say it's disrespectful. But that's what we have to do. This needs to stop.

    When the buying (eating) stops, the killing can too!

  17. Yo I just want to point out that traditional medicine often gets a disproportionately huge amount of blame for the decline of threatened species. It often derails into straight up racism, which is really shitty considering the western world is to blame for most of the bad policies and actions that lead to extinctions.
    I'm not defending shark fin soup, I just think hating on Asian people in general for this would be unnecessary.

  18. What if sharks were (and could be) cultivated, much like cattle. Would that be okay?
    The species itself would still be endangered, but at least the ones in the wild would remain unaffected.

  19. i think it's funny that sharks are capable of drowning do to their need to move in order to breath and their large oxygen intake.

  20. My goodness, are they really de-finning whale sharks as well? Are there any sharks that aren't endangered? I know there's a lot of species out there, but it seems they are ALL being drastically affected… Also, my main complaint about these Sharkscoop videos: Not long enough! 🙂

  21. imagine u r one of these poor fisher guys whose life is just miserable
    u find a shark that could help ur family to live a better life if u cut their fins and sell them
    it makes us sound kinda full of ourselves if we just see it from our first-world-country-standpoint
    we live in such wealth that we actually think about perserving such species rather than  hunting them
    those guys who do the fishing r actually the victim – most of them wont even know what evolution and natural selection or DNA is

  22. In addition to discouraging hunting of wild sharks, I wonder if it would be possible to somehow rear sharks the same way we rear chickens, pork and cattle. That way the wild and domestic populations would be isolated, we would only interact with the domestic populations and it shouldn't be very different from farming pigs for bacon. As a non-expert the biggest hurdle I can see is that sharks are wild, predators and have never been domesticated, as opposed to farm animals which are generally herbivores or omnivores, don't really hunt, and have been selectively bred by humans for thousands of years. Perhaps if we start now with small populations we might have good domestic shark populations after some generations? It should maintain a supply for anyone who would like to eat shark (which is in of itself not morally objectionable to me) while also leaving wild populations to develop on their own without human intervention or hunting.

  23. Cool that StonyBrook University is doing this CSI stuff….Now I'm regretting turning down their admissions offer

  24. I think that education and boycotts are the best tactic to deal with this.
    People who kill endangered species really make me sick.

  25. Most eastern medicine and other holistic treatments were developed not to cure disease or heal injuries, but as something to distract people from the pain and symptoms as they waited for their body to heal it's self or to die. Any eastern or holistic medicine that has been proven to actually work better than placebo is just called regular medicine. 

  26. Was it really necessary to do a DNA test on the whale shark fin to discover the species?
    I never heard of any living animal that could have anything similar (I am no biologist, though).

  27. Sharks have excellent meat… it seems sheer insanity that they'd catch a shark, mortally injure it, and then throw it away.  Meanwhile other vessels in the exact same area are fishing for other species.  WTF!?

  28. The fact that the fin is from a whale shark mad me so much more angry for some reason. I mean sharks in general are some of my favorite animals, but those jokers did that to a mothahuggin whale shark??! a-nononono. No and also NO.

  29. wow hearing stony brook mentioned by someone not from the area feels strange to me, I guess living close to and visiting it so many times in my lifetime dulls it as a college for me.

  30. If dogfish fins are used in soup, why dont they farm them? I know you can and they are farmed. 

    I guess considering sharks reproduce slower than other fish and their diets make farming expensive, plus you would either have to find a use for the bodies or pay for them to be thrown away. It must be cheaper to just catch-cut-throw overboard. 

    But even then, high price is because sharks populations are thinning and its illegal in most places. The high price of the bowl probably could pay for a dogfish farm, other meat could be sold, and guts and such could be made into food for carnivorous fish (if that is safe for them and or people eating them)

  31. it's sad we have to waste resources on human arrogance. People just don't get it, they will though when it's too late. Nature knows how to fight back.

  32. Conservation efforts should be made to make sure the hunting of sharks does not result in a large ecological change, but there are some points people make against eating shark fin that seems hypocritical or lacking in knowledge. In my opinion, the only real problem with shark hunting is because of its endangered status; almost every other argument against eating shark fin seems to stem from an emotional bandwagon.
    1. Saying we should not allow sales of shark fin because it tastes bad is subjective and non sequitur. And just an FYI: frequent shark fin eaters can easily tell difference between different types of shark fin and imitation, just like how different cuts of steak or different kinds of chicken are different in taste. And although it doesn't have a strong flavor, anyone who appreciates food can tell you that texture can be just as important as flavor. Saying that they eat it ONLY because it is expensive is outright ignorant. Even if that were the case, eating it because it is expensive is EQUAL to eating it because of its taste, because either one can make you happy. 
    2. Humane slaughter is an oxymoron. But if you do believe animals can be killed humanely, you probably have a problem with how chicken, cow, lamb, other fish, and other livestock were treated prior to their death. And again, saying shark fin should not be sold because they are not killed humanely is non sequitur. This problem can be solved by killing them "humanely" like other livestock. Should we ban cars because they cause death by car accidents? No. Drastic measures should not be taken for problems with simple solutions.
    3. Good luck changing 1/5 of the world's population's culture before sharks become extinct! I am not saying that it's not possible or that it shouldn't change; I am saying it won't happen any time soon. Just because science says killing sharks is bad for the ecosystem doesn't mean science won't ever have a solution! Of course, the first step should be to try to slow the rate at which its population is declining, but finding out a permanent solution is just as important! Maybe a genetically modified shark for consumers?

  33. The shark fin thing bothers me so much. Its so wasteful. I am generally okay with the fact that humans eat other animals but wasting an entire shark just for the fin is horrible and the way those poor sharks die when they are thrown back in is horrific. 

  34. I'm really glad to see the science back in Shark Week. I was surprised, however, that you did not interview any scientists who do work on sharks for your episodes. This is especially surprising given that the Field Museum employs one of the foremost shark population biologist in the world. It would really help the cause of science to have the scientists also speak about their research.


  36. An animal that the Chinese have ground to near extinction that isn't often thought of is the amazing and surprising Saiga.  

    I want a pet Saiga…I hope they don't go extinct.

  37. Why do people only eat the fins, though? What is it about the rest of the shark meat that compels them to throw the amputated creature back in the water?

  38. And shark fin soup doesn't even taste good at all. The one I've tried had more flavor from the chicken and other ingredients added to it. The texture was okay, but nothing to die over.

    From my understanding, the whole reason why shark fin is so desirable is the mythological medical benefits and that it's a status symbol for success. It's the equivalent of putting ground-up diamond and edible gold in your soup, just cuz you can.


  40. im a chinese and im very upset about the use of shark fins, especially in my culture (many other cultures, western included, use it as well). many thinks its a sign of status to be able to consume it, albeit shark fins are tasteless and nutrition-less on its own. i work very hard to educate my family and friends about the importance of sharks in ecology, so that none of them will fall to the false pretences of shark "delicacies" that is still present in today's culture.

  41. i knew a couple of chinese and taiwanese people. i told them why they can't eat shark fins soup (i'm a marine science student, so i told them what i got from my class), and they were looking at me like "wtf, bitj you're crazy af", and they laughed at me. they said it's good and it's their tradition, and i was like, with the current condition of shark population, eating sharks fins should be illegal in every part of this world (it is illegal in my country). you keep eating it cus it's a tradition, so if eating human parts is a tradition too and it's legal in your country, you will follow it?

    I mean, follow the tradition is good, but it all made a couple of hundreds years ago (most definitely sharks population is a lot bigger back than), which means a lot of things happened in this world and a lot of things have changed (including shark population and knowledge about the importance of the existence of one species to the environment), so we have to adapt with the current condition if we still want to live in this earth or restore all the goodness in this planet.

  42. When my I went to my local Asian market they had small, juvenile sharks with the rest of the fish on ice, but the sharks had their fins missing. At the time I forgot that shark fin was illegal at the time, but know it all makes sense.

    P.S. the cuts where the fins were cut off were still new so I’m guessing that they cut off the fins to hide them from the public so the don’t get in trouble.

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