It was a shocking discovery for the WCS researchers working in Delaware Bay. A shark, missing all its fins, was still swimming through the waters, looking like a ghost of its former self. A photo shows where the dorsal and pectoral fins were removed. The female sand tiger shark had no anal fins, and most of its tail fin had been removed.

The researchers, working in partnership with Delaware State University, were conducting a study as part of WCS’s New York Seascape Program, which aims to protect the threatened marine life that swims through one of the most urbanized coastlines in the world.

“This disturbing find is a reminder about the ongoing threats to vulnerable shark populations and the need for expanded education to ensure compliance with U.S. fishing laws," said Jon Dohlin, Vice President and Director of WCS’s New York Aquarium.

Shark finning, the practice of cutting the fins off of a live shark and returning the crippled animal to the water to die, is illegal in the United States.

There is no way to tell when the shark in this photo was finned, or how long it would live. Finning is a major threat to shark populations around the world. Earlier research supported by WCS estimated that as many as 73 million sharks are finned annually for the shark fin soup trade. Federal regulations have made it illegal to fish for this species—commercially and recreationally—in U.S. Atlantic waters since 1997.

The New York Seascape, part of WCS's A Sea Change initiative, will be a featured component of the new "Ocean Wonders" shark exhibit scheduled to start construction in 2012.

Learn more about the New York Seascape >>