An unlikely group has taken up the cause of saving sharks from a cruel practice known as finning. They are shark attack survivors, some of whom have lost limbs and endured seriously altered lifestyles.
“Most of us have forgiven,” Debbie Salamone, 46, competitive ballroom dancer whose Achilles tendon was severed during a 2004 attack off Florida, told Reuters news agency. “If you care about the ocean, you need to care about sharks.”
Most recently the survivors have fanned across the United States to collect shark-fin soup for analysis, in an attempt to show that consumers of this Chinese delicacy might be gobbling up an imperiled species.
Results of the study, released Thursday by the Pew Environmental Group, show that of 32 samples that contained shark DNA, 26 bowls (or 81%) contained fins from shark species that are globally endangered, vulnerable or near-threatened.
“The DNA testing again confirms that a wide variety of sharks are being killed for the fin trade, including seriously threatened species,” said Dr. Demian Chapman, who co-led DNA testing at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science in New York. “U.S. consumers of shark-fin soup cannot be certain of what’s in their soup. They could be eating a species that is in serious trouble.”
Shark finning involves the removal of fins from live sharks, which in most cases are tossed back into the sea. The soup can fetch as much as $100 per bowl. Finning is banned in U.S. waters, but imported fins are sold throughout much of the country.
Shark finning is so widespread, to satisfy demand in Asian markets, that as many as 73 million sharks are killed every year. That, many scientists believe, is not sustainable.
“What better voice is there than ours?” said Mike Coots, 32, a surfer whose right leg was severed by a tiger shark in 1997 off the Hawaiian island of Hawaii.
The shark attack survivors have lobbied Congress to close loopholes in the finning ban, and have worked with the United Nations to establish shark sanctuaries.
Their participation in the soup study included visits to 51 restaurants that serve shark-fin soup, and collecting samples for analysis. One sample, from a Boston restaurant, contained DNA from the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark.
Samples from restaurants in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando, Seattle, Las Vegas, and Albuquerque contained DNA from sharks listed as vulnerable. Eighteen other samples showed ingredients were from sharks listed as near-threatened.
Species that were identified included bull sharks, blue sharks, shortfin makos, smooth hammerheads, and spiny dogfish.
“Hating sharks helps no one,” said Krishna Thompson, whose leg was shredded and later amputated as a result of 2001 attack during a wedding anniversary trip to the Bahamas.
A handful of U.S. states recently passed laws banning the sale and possession of shark fins. The survivors, who will be featured next Wednesday during the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” series, are doing what they can to grow that list.