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The Foundation supports projects both financially and in an advisory function. For purposes of controlling results and ensuring quality it requests yearly project reports. Whenever necessary, Shark Foundation projects are examined by the Foundation's > scientific advisory committee which is composed of highly qualified shark researchers and scientists.

We need your help in order to carry out the various projects. You can support individual projects directly by noting the respective donation code on the > deposit slip or > bank transfer.


 Molecular genetic shark identification

Donation code: Identification

Can you identify the shark species used to make these shark products?

Identification
© Prof. M. J. Shivji / Innerspace Visions / Hai-Stiftung

"What kind of shark was that?" Both fishing experts and customs inspectors are called upon to answer this question when examining a load of already processed sharks. But very often not even shark specialists can provide a clear answer.

Proponents of shark fishing argue that the fishermen cannot identify the shark species caught. Only in the case of shark fins are they precisely informed as to which fins obtain the best market price.
On the other hand, fishing supervisors and customs inspectors whose job is to control catches in port or at country boundaries often cannot clearly identify the fins or already processed sharks as belonging to this or that species. Lacking easy identification methods, only in rare cases can they prove that fishermen have caught sharks belonging to protected shark species.

It's a vicious circle: As long as catches are not clearly and legally identifiable, fishermen can continue to fish sharks indiscriminately. And unless we can determine the number of individuals from a specific shark species which are caught, we cannot establish any guidelines for the fishing industry which will help protect certain shark species that are known to be declining rapidly.

The subject of shark identification has been pursued in Professor Mahmood Shivji's laboratory at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. The project's objective is to develop molecular-biological, easy-to-use tools which will enable customs agents or fishing supervisors to identify shark species and their body parts quickly. The tests are based on DNA analysis of the genetic structure which is unique for all living things.


 
 Shark identification project

 

PCR Gel
© Professor M. J. Shivji / Shark Foundation
Illustration: Using gel electrophoresis many samples can be tested simultaneously.

Fishing industry supervisors and customs inspectors take small tissue samples (a few hundredths of a gram suffice) from the load and send them to a nearby laboratory for examination. Today every laboratory can perform such a routine examination in a short period of time.

In 2003 the shark identification project based on minute tissue samples was a prominent topic in the media. Being able to identify the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) was big step forward in connection with the animal's protection by CITES. Professor Shivji is also using his method to perform examinations on shark fins in Chile and Asian fish markets. His DNA forensic studies of the fin trade have allowed for an understanding of the relationship between Hong Kong fin trader names (in Chinese) for the fins and actual scientific species. This information has revealed for the first time which shark species are being killed the most to supply the international fin markets. This information has also led to the first quantitative determination that up to 73 million sharks are killed per year just to supply the global fin markets!

"Virgin Birth"

Professor Shivji's research with support from the Hai Stiftung/Shark Foundation has also made major discoveries in the field of shark reproduction. His team has recently made the major discovery that female sharks can give birth without their eggs needing to be fertilized my sperm from male sharks. This remarkable discovery of shark "virgin birth", scientifically knows as parthenogenesis, has been reported worldwide in the media and is causing text books on vertebrate reproduction to be modified to include this new information.


> Publications

The Foundation has been cofinancing the projects since June 2000 so far totalling about CHF 113,000.

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