As many as 73 million sharks are killed for their fins each year, according to new research. But the actual figure is probably much higher because among other exceptions the study doesn't include sharks killed for meat, taken as accidental by-catch, or sold on the black market.

The global trade in shark fins is largely driven by Chinese consumption where shark fin soup goes for up to $100 per bowl. This means bad news for sharks. According to the article in Science News...

A disturbing fact gleaned from the Hong Kong auctions, the researchers say, is that many of the fins being traded come from immature animals. Unlike most fish, sharks may take up to 20 years before they reproduce for the first time. Moreover, sharks bear few young at a time—in many cases only two to four—and, typically, only every few years or so. Harvesting sharks before they've reproduced limits the chance that already depleted shark populations will recover.

Usually the finned shark is thrown back in the ocean to die since shark meat is not in much demand.

One step that the Shark Alliance is pushing for is to require that sharks be landed whole (or at least improve on the fin to carcass weight ratio). This would at least reduce the amount of waste, and make it easier for scientists and regulators to collect species-specific data. Maybe it would also make shark fining less profitable since whole sharks have to take up a lot more space in the hold than just the fins.

Recently, our team on the Esperanza got a chance to investigate a shark finning operation. You can read all about it here.