By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Survivors of shark attacks - now trying to save the animals that took their limbs and, in some cases, nearly their lives - want U.S. restaurant-goers to know they may be eating a threatened species in their shark fin soup.
Out of 32 samples taken across the country of the Chinese delicacy with identifiable shark DNA, 26 bowls, or 81 percent, contained fins from sharks listed as endangered, vulnerable or near threatened, according to a report released on Thursday by the Pew Environment Group.
The study was based on tests of the soup in 14 U.S. cities, and shark attack survivors collected the soup samples.
The survivors hope the study will help convince the public that the ultimate price of shark fin soup is more than the typical $100 listed on menus.
Nearly one-third of shark species are in danger of extinction, and up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, Pew said.
President Barack Obama signed a law last year to tighten a ban on the practice of removing sharks' fins and throwing the fish back into the ocean to die. Fins also can come from legal, regulated fishing.
"What better voice is there than ours?" said Mike Coots, 32, of Kauai, Hawaii, a surfer whose right leg was ripped off by a tiger shark in 1997.
The survivors group has lobbied Congress to close loopholes in the shark fin ban. It also works through the United Nations to encourage the establishment of shark sanctuaries around the world.
Their efforts began after Debbie Salamone, a competitive ballroom dancer, had her Achilles tendon severed by a shark off Florida's coast in 2004.
The shark encounter eventually lead her to refocus her life's work on protecting the animals from extinction and recruiting other shark attack survivors around the globe to help with her mission.
"Most of us have forgiven," said Salamone, 46, who is now a Pew spokeswoman. "If you care about the ocean, you need to care about sharks."
SECRET SOUP SAMPLES
For the shark fin soup study, shark attack survivors fanned out to a total of 51 restaurants in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Las Vegas, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, the Washington, D.C., area, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando in Florida, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Krishna Thompson, 46, whose leg was stripped to bone by a shark during a 2001 wedding anniversary trip to the Bahamas and later amputated, said he collected soup samples from six or seven different restaurants in New York.
"I would always take the soup to go," Thompson said.
Once outside the restaurants, Thompson said he would label the soup containers for submission to DNA testers at Stony Brook University.
"Hating sharks helps no one," said Thompson, who nearly died from blood loss and organ shutdown after his shark attack.
The most egregious soup sample, from a restaurant in Boston, contained the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark, according to the report.
DNA from sharks listed as vulnerable was found in seven soup samples from Orlando, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Albuquerque.
Another 18 soup samples contained shark considered near threatened, according to the findings.
The remaining samples contained shark meat that could not be specifically identified due to the quality of the DNA or the lack of useable DNA. In three cases, the only identifiable meat came from chicken or other fish, according to the report.
John Breall, a San Francisco lawyer who represents Asian-American restaurateurs, importers and civic leaders, is fighting a new California ban on the possession or sale of fins, which he calls "anti-Chinese." Breall told Reuters he was surprised by the Pew group's findings.
"There are major shark fisheries on the east and west coasts, sustainable fisheries, and these supply the vast majority of shark meat and shark fins," Breall said.
Breall said most of the shark from the sustainable fisheries is spiny dogfish, which "are reproducing at a huge rate." The Pew study lists spiny dogfish as vulnerable.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Vicki Allen)