Scientists at the Yale-NUS College in Singapore were conducting a DNA barcoding study using pet food samples when they discovered that approximately a third of their samples contained the DNA of sharks.
Most shockingly, some of the sequenced shark DNA uncovered that some species used as ingredients in the pet food samples were vulnerable species. An animal species listed as vulnerable is not considered endangered yet, but they are being watched because their numbers are so low that they may become endangered, which could lead to the extinction of the species.
What the Scientists Found
The pet food samples that had shark DNA as a part of their structure did not list shark meat on the ingredients list in any form. Instead, it seems that shark meat is described by using terms like “whitefish” or “ocean fish”, which are much more socially and commercially acceptable terms than saying that pet food contains sharks.
The study was published in the journal “Frontiers in Marine Science” on March 4th, 2022.
Where the Samples Came From
It should be noted that none of the 45 samples used in this DNA barcoding study were American brands. The 45 samples came from 16 different pet food brands that are found in Singapore.
That is not to say that all pet food products that list “whitefish” or “ocean fish” will contain shark meat, but pet parents should be wary of the products they are buying being unspecific about the ingredients they contain.
Which Threatened Species Were Found?
The study’s scientists identified three common vulnerable shark species while studying the DNA of the samples:
- The Blue Shark
- The Silky Shark
- The Whitetip Reef Shark
Of these, the Blue Shark is considered “near threatened” because of overfishing, while the other two species are identified under the “vulnerable” category.
Three further vulnerable sharks were found in the products, but they weren’t as common as the ones listed above. These are the Sicklefin Weasel shark, the Caribbean Sharpnose shark, and the Sand Tiger shark.
The Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act is a federal law from 1973 that was brought forward to protect endangered and threatened species from becoming extinct. There are three departments in the federal government that deal with the Endangered Species Act: the Department of Interior (endangered animals in general), the Department of Commerce (endangered marine mammals), and the Department of Agriculture (endangered plants).
According to the Endangered Species Act in the United States of America, the import, export, or taking of fish, wildlife, and plants that are listed as threatened or endangered is prohibited. Vulnerable species are considered threatened, which means that any companies found to be knowingly using shark meat from vulnerable species could be prosecuted.
The Endangered Species Act is enforced through citizen suits and civil and criminal penalties. A criminal violation may result in imprisonment and a fine of up to $50,000, while a civil violation of a major provision may result in a fine between $12,000 and $25,000.