Many experts agree that it is necessary to monitor the trade in fins of five shark species of concern: oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and three species of hammerhead sharks (scalloped, smooth and great). These species are globally distributed, large-bodied and their fins are traded internationally in large numbers. Four of the species have at least one population listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In addition, four of the species are subject to conservation and management measures in one or more regional fisheries management organizations. All of these species have also at some point been proposed for inclusion on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
This guide is intended to help enforcement and customs personnel in the provisional identification of the first dorsal fins of these five shark species. In law enforcement situations, this could provide probable cause to hold questionable fins, so that expert opinion could be sought or genetic testing could be conducted to confirm the field identification. The guide focuses on dried, unprocessed first dorsal fins because these are the most easily identified of the traded fins for these species. More than 500 dorsal fins from over 40 shark species were examined in developing this guide. Although there are more than 450 species of sharks, most of them (65%) are small-bodied (less than 1 meter in length as adults) and their dorsal fins are too small to be confused with the dorsal fins from the large-bodied species covered in this guide. We suggest caution when using this guide to identify fins less than 10 cm across the base. Only the fins of very young oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and the three hammerhead sharks would be that small. Follow this link for additional details about the specimens examined.
Fins from 14 large-bodied shark species make up roughly 40% of the global fin trade. The oceanic whitetip and three hammerheads in this guide are included in this group and were estimated to constituted 7-9% of traded fins in 2000. Shark fin traders in Asia visually sort fins from these species into specific trade categories using the shape and color of the fin.
This guide describes the key characteristics that can be used to quickly and easily separate the first dorsal fins of these five species from other types of shark fins in trade. Porbeagle and oceanic whitetip first dorsal fins can be rapidly and unambiguously identified to the species level based on the diagnostic white markings detailed in this guide. The first dorsal fins of hammerhead sharks as a group can also be rapidly and unambiguously separated from all other large sharks using two simple measurements that describe their characteristic shape (much taller than they are broad) and color (dull brown to light grey). The three hammerhead species covered in this guide are the only hammerheads that are common in international trade. Species identification of hammerhead sharks requires examination of dorsal and pectoral fin sets or genetic testing.
At a glance...