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Shark Attack

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Slow Death: Today, an estimated 73 million sharks (a conservative number by some accounts) are killed by humans each year, many of these in East Asia, where shark-fin soup is a delicacy popular among the region's booming middle classes. But the hunt is a worldwide phenomenon: According to a report published in January by the wildlife monitoring group Traffic and the Pew Environment Group, the top shark-fishing states include Indonesia, India, Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, and the United States. Thirty percent of shark species are threatened or near threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. However, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species failed last year to add five new shark species to the three already banned from international trade.

In this photo from March 1999, Indian bystanders gather around a 31-foot-long whale shark, a threatened species, brought ashore after getting entangled in fishing nets off the shore of a village near Mumbai.

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Fins Aplenty: The shark fin trade converges in Hong Kong, which imports 9,000 tons of fins, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, each year.

Workers prepare shark fins for sale in Hong Kong, in September 2007.

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Deadly Status Symbols: Shark-fin soup is a symbol of status traditionally served at elaborate banquets and celebrations, such as weddings. These types of set-menu affairs account for nearly 90 percent of shark-fin soup consumption. As China's middle class grows, more and more people are able to indulge in this delicacy. Still, a survey of Hong Kong residents recently revealed that 78 percent of respondents thought it was "acceptable" to leave the soup off the menu.

Above, a worker carries shark heads on May 17, 2011, in Yueqing, in China's Zhejiang province.

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Shark, Aisle 3: The gastronomical appeal of sharks extends beyond Asia. In Bordeaux, France, in February 2005, a 20-foot-long basking shark caught in the Bay of Biscay is on display in a supermarket.

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