You have to feel bad for sharks. What do they get in exchange for being such an important element of marine ecosystems, maintaining a diversified plant and animal life in the oceans? Almost extinguished. Recently, though, some individuals have begun to believe that sharks are simply big ol’ softies that happen to be coated with fangs. At the very least, you probably wouldn’t want to, even if you don’t like the fishy predators… Right, you’re going to massacre a lot of endangered animals and feed them to your cat?
Unfortunately, according to a recent research published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, you may have been unintentionally doing just that. Researchers in Singapore analyzed over 150 different pet food items using DNA barcoding and discovered a disturbing finding: roughly one-third of them included shark meat, including shark meat from fragile and endangered species like the silky shark and whitetip reef shark. “None of the goods purchased identified shark as an ingredient, instead utilizing generic catch-all terminology like ‘fish,’ ‘ocean fish,’ ‘white bait,’ or ‘white fish,'” research authors Ben Wainwright and Ian French stated.
“We believe the majority of pet owners are likely nature enthusiasts, and we believe most would be shocked to learn that they may be unintentionally contributing to shark overfishing,” they said. This is far from the first time sharks have been discovered in unexpected areas. According to a research published in the United States in 2019, one out of every eight cosmetic items contains shark DNA. Despite the availability of a plant-based alternative, squalene, or shark liver oil, is a common ingredient in moisturizers. Worse, over two-thirds of the pet food samples tested positive for shark DNA, with the majority of the sharks being the endangered shortfin mako shark.
“Given the results of [this] prior study,” the authors noted, “we wanted to determine if endangered sharks are also offered in Asian pet food.” Overfishing, spurred by the expanding shark fin and meat trade, kills an estimated 100 million sharks each year, and several species are on the verge of extinction. What makes matters worse is the global absence of appropriate fishing techniques, which puts even more strain on already overburdened sharks.
“We don’t know if the high prevalence of sharks in pet food is an attempt to minimize the wastefulness of the shark fin trade, where high-valued fins are kept and low-valued corpses are dumped; if this is the case, it may be laudable,” the research concludes. “However, we are suspicious that sharks wind up in pet food for no other reason.” The study demonstrates that the unintentional use of sharks in pet food and cosmetics is a worldwide problem that we’re only now beginning to comprehend. Consumers can’t choose not to buy the offending items since the additives aren’t labeled, so corporations have no motivation to quit.
“Pet food is not a worthy use of these charismatic and ecologically important apex predators,” the authors concluded, “when viewed in light of the facts that oceanic shark and ray populations have declined by 71 percent since 1970 and that three-quarters of all shark species are now considered at risk of global extinction.” “Better labeling,” they concluded, “would allow customers to make more informed decisions by avoiding the presently employed ambiguous catch-all phrase.” “This, in turn, would benefit shark populations by assisting in the mitigation of excessive fishing and resource usage, both of which are detrimental to their long-term survival.”