Shark fin soup is a traditional Chinese dish made from the cartilage found inside the fins of sharks. The growing demand for shark fins is one of the main drivers of the global decline in shark populations. One blogger wondered how much soup you can make from the fin of a single megalodon, so he did the math.

Over at Southern Fried Science, David Shiffman writes that explaining his calculations "can tell us a lot about one of the most important ocean conservation issues facing the world today."

Above: Reconstructed megalodon jaw, National Aquarium (Source).

The Chinese delicacy is made from something called ceratotrichia, small structures in the fins' cartilage which, according to Shiffman, have "no taste, no smell, and no nutritional value." They just add texture to the final dish.

Growing demand for shark fin soup as a result of China's economic boom is one of the main drivers of the global overfishing of sharks. Is it sometimes, but not always, associated with the wasteful and inhumane fishing practice known as "shark finning." Sometimes the soup is made with the fins of Threatened or Endangered species of sharks that aren't supposed to be caught. As the shark fin trade is global, and large parts of it are unsustainable and poorly regulated, it is an area of concern for ocean conservation advocates.

According to his math, a single serving of the soup is made using just .75 ounces of dried shark fins. Carcharocles megalodon, commonly known as the megalodon, was probably the largest shark that even swam our planet's oceans. (Yes, that sentence is written intentionally in the past tense, because despite what they tell you on TV, it is long extinct.)

So the fins of one shark can be used for more than one bowl of soup.

If a typical adult megalodon would weigh 50 metric tons, and on average 3% of a shark's mass is fins, then we can estimate that a typical adult megalodon would have approximately 1.5 metric tons of fins.

Taking that information into account:

If a typical adult megalodon has 1.5 metric tons (1,500 kilograms) of fins, and fins sell for $400 a kilogram, then the fins of an adult megalodon could be sold for a total of $600,000. If it takes three quarters of an ounce of dried shark fin to make one bowl of shark fin soup, then with 1.5 metric tons (52,910 ounces) of shark fins, you could make 70,456 bowls of shark fin soup.

In other words, there is more than enough soup from the fins of a single megalodon to feed everyone in Greenland, and still have some left over.

The maximum possible size of megalodon (grey), compared with a conservative estimate for its size (red), a whale shark (purple), a great white shark (green), and a human. (Source)


It's all a fun bit of nerdery, but the problems of shark finning and the overfishing of shark stocks are quite real. Shiffman points out that if the fins of a single megalodon could net some $600,000, commercial shark fishermen would quickly drive it into becoming endangered and possibly to extinction. "And if the hypothetical overfishing of a species that has been extinct for millions of years has you as upset as it has me," he says, "you should learn more about the real overfishing of shark species that are still around… at least for now."

Read the whole post at Southern Fried Science.