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Fins' Origins

Researchers are analyzing DNA from shark fins found for sale to determine where they came from in the world and if any were from endangered species, Mongabay reports.

It notes that when dried and readied for sale, fins from different sharks look similar, making it difficult to ascertain their origins. But researchers led by Florida International University's Demian Chapman report in the journal Animal Conservation, they found that a genetic stock identification workflow can be used to trace their origins. They in particular focused on the scalloped hammerhead shark Sphyrna lewini, which has a number of different populations.

"They have these nine distinct populations … because the females are homing back to a certain region to give birth," Chapman tells Mongabay. "Because they're doing this generation after generation, you get these distinct signatures in the DNA zip code that are associated with regions, and we can read those, so we can trace them back."

As they report in their paper, Chapman and his colleagues conducted a pilot study in which they collected fin samples from a Hong Kong market. Through their analysis, they found that three-quarters of the fins came from two Pacific Ocean populations, but mostly from an Eastern Pacific population considered endangered by the US. Still, they note that all nine shark populations were present at the market, underscoring the global reach of the trade.