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Field Museum Technology Proves Endangered Sharks Being Killed For Soup

By Anthony Todd in Food on Aug 13, 2012 4:15PM

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Last month, Illinois banned the sale of shark fins, most commonly used to make soup. Lots of states are jumping on board, and China may even be heading in the same direction. A lot of readers may ask, "Why should we care about shark fins?" A new study from the Stony Brook Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, using technology developed at the Field Museum, proves that not only are tons of sharks being killed for their fins, those sharks are often members of endangered and threatened species.

Globally, shark populations are on the decline. Many species of sharks are endangered, including Great White Sharks (rarer than tigers) and smooth hammerheads, bull and dusky sharks, all of which have declined 99% in population over the past 40 years. While Great Whites aren't being made into soup (at least, we hope not - definitely going to need a bigger boat), many of the other threatened species are.

How do we know? The Pritzker Laboratory at the Field Museum, which some of you may have peered into during a recent visit, has developed technology to genetically analyze shark fins even after they have been cooked and treated for shipment. Scientists at Stony Brook tested samples of sharks fin soup to find out what sharks were actually being served - there isn't a culinary standard.

8 species of shark currently under environmental protection were found in just 51 bowls of soup from 14 American cities. 18 more are "near threatened" and declining in population. Even scarier, 19 of the samples couldn't be completely analyzed - there may be more threatened species hiding in those bowls.

The solution? Perhaps this is a dish that, for now, should disappear from our menus. The Discovery Channel reports that more then 73 million sharks are killed every year. For those of you concerned with economics more than environmentalism, they also report that a single shark when caught and killed is worth about $3000. That same shark, in potential eco-tourism value, is worth about $250,000. Time to take a break from shark fishing.

FINAL Pew SharkSoup Chart