Ocean News

Using DNA forensics to track the trade in shark fins

3rd December 2009

SOSF funded Professor Mahmood Shivji of the Guy Harvey Research Institute and Save Our Seas Shark Centre at Nova Southeastern University has been tracking the international trade in shark fins using methods that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Crime Scene Investigation. By sequencing mitochondrial DNA of both wild shark populations and fins in markets it is possible for Mahmood and his team to tell where in the world the fins at market came from – a process called ‘genetic stock identification’.

Most recently they have been able to identify that 21% of scalloped hammerhead fins sampled from Hong Kong markets were actually sourced from western Atlantic populations, where the species is already listed as endangered by the IUCN. The samples from the western Atlantic also identified three subdivisions within the population due to particular sequences being geographically segregated, indicating that breeding females either remain close, or home back, to their natal region of origin for parturition.

‘The fact that scalloped hammerhead shark DNA shows strong population DNA signatures means that we can trace the geographic origin of most of their fins sold at markets,’ Mahmood said. ‘From a broader perspective, this type of DNA forensic testing of fins will be an incredibly useful tool to prioritize areas for conservation and ensure sharks aren’t wiped out in particular regions by excessive fishing.’

One of Mahmood’s co-authors, Dr Demian Chapman plans to attend the CITES meeting in Qatar this coming March to urge that scalloped hammerheads are listed under Appendix II to receive more comprehensive protection from the international market.

To learn more about Mahmood’s research be sure to check out his project page here.