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Asian soup peril menaces bionic shark

Augmented hammerhead study predicts maneater scarcity

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Worrying news for evil billionaires today, as pioneering research by top boffins – in which a large hammerhead shark was augmented with high technology – reveals that large, endangered elasmobranches suitable for the in-lair pool disposal of troublesome government operatives may soon be even harder to get hold of.

The new revelations come to us courtesy of professor Neil Hammerschlag and his colleagues, who have recently succeeded in fastening a satellite tracking device to the dorsal fin of a great hammerhead shark.

Great hammerheads, like many other shark species, are threatened by overfishing: shark's fin soup being a delicacy much in demand in Asia. Previous DNA analyses have indicated that the hungry shark-gobbling Far Easteners are denuding much of the world of big finny man-eaters, with a majority of shark fins sold in Asian markets now originating from the Atlantic. Another major snag for the toothy ocean predators is being accidentally snared in the tackle of fishermen actually after different species.

Hammerschlag and his colleagues had hoped that some hammerheads might be preserved from the scourge of the fishermen by perhaps staying within limited ranges. This would mean that some sharks might remain and breed safely within US waters, where fishing regulations are enforced, even though the high seas were swept clean.

Unfortunately it turns out that big sharks don't stay within fisheries enforcement limits. The great hammerhead in the study travelled some 1,200km (700+ miles) in just 62 days, departing from the Florida coast to the mid-Atlantic.

"This animal made an extraordinary large movement in a short amount of time," says Hammerschlag. "This study provides evidence that great hammerheads can migrate into international waters, where these sharks are vulnerable to illegal fishing".

The prof now suspects that most big sharks may exhibit similar behaviour, meaning that there will be no sanctuary within which they can thrive protected from hungry soup-mongers and careless fishermen. It may be, as was famously the case with Dr Evil, that it will prove impossible to get hold of actual sharks for use in execution pools in future and alternatives such as ill-tempered mutant sea bass will have to be considered instead.

Results of the study are published (subscription required) in the journal Endangered Species Research. ®

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