Proposals to include five threatened shark species in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) were adopted at the 16th Conference of the Parties in March 2013 and are in effect as of September 14, 2014. These species are the oceanic whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus), porbeagle (Lamna nasus), scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini), smooth hammerhead (S. zygaena) and great hammerhead (S. mokarran). These species are globally distributed, grow to large sizes, and their fins are traded internationally in large numbers. Fins from these species crossing international boundaries are required to be accompanied by an export permit issued by the national CITES Authority.

This guide is intended to help enforcement and customs personnel provisionally identify the first dorsal fins of these five shark species in their most commonly traded form (frozen or dried and unprocessed). This will provide probable cause to detain fins in trade that do not have the correct CITES permit. The species-of-origin of detained fins can then be verified visually by an expert (email: or through genetic testing.

The guide focuses on first dorsal fins because these are the most easily identified of the traded fins for these species. We recommend that inspectors initially focus on finding the easily identifiable first dorsal fins of these species to expedite the inspection process. The species descriptions do also include photographs of the pectoral fins if needed. The initial steps of the guide tell the user how to quickly isolate first dorsal fins from other types of shark fin.

Once the user has a first dorsal fin, the guide describes the key characteristics that can be used to quickly and easily determine if it is from one of the newly listed species. Porbeagle first dorsal fins can be rapidly and unambiguously identified to the species level based on the diagnostic white markings on the free rear tip of the fin detailed in the guide and seen in the photograph (1) at the top of the page. Oceanic whitetip first dorsal fins are easily distinguished from all other shark species because they are broadly rounded (rather than pointed) and have a large obvious white patch on the apex of the fin. These features can be seen in photograph (2) at the top of the page. 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 shape (much taller than they are broad) coupled with characteristics of the fin base (narrow with tight row of oval-shaped cartilage) and color (dull brown to light grey; see photograph (3) above). The three hammerhead species covered in this guide are the only large hammerhead species and therefore typically have fins larger than approximately 15 cm across the base. They are also probably more common in international trade than the smaller species. Species identification of hammerhead shark fins requires examination of dorsal and pectoral fin sets or genetic testing.

EXPERT IDENTIFICATION: If you have a fin that you have provisionally identified as being from one of these species and want to have it confirmed by an expert please email us a photograph of the fin at We will respond within 24 hours.