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'One Of The Most Heinous Crimes In Nature': Half A Tonne Of Shark Fins Seized

Wildlife inspectors at a port in Miami discovered an unusual shipment on Monday: 635 Kilograms of dried shark fins.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the shipment was found in 18 boxes at the Miami Port of Entry on January 24. Officials believe the shipment originated in South America and was likely headed to Asia, where shark fins are sought after for use in soup and traditional medicine.

Customs and Border Protection officials assisted with the bust. Officials told CBS News the shipment was falsely declared.

Inspectors said the estimated value of the seized fins is between US$700,000 and $1 million. Image: U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

The shipment violated the Lacey Act, which prohibits illegal wildlife trade, and included species protected from exploitation by CITES, The Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.

Authorities have not announced any criminal charges. The investigation is ongoing.

"It is very big money stuff. It is very harmful to the ecology," charter captain Bouncer Smith told CBS Miami. "This is one of the most heinous crimes in nature that we have seen."

Conservationists say that up to 73 million sharks end up in the global fin trade every year. Smugglers cut the fins from live animals before throwing them back into the water to suffocate or bleed to death.

"Whether it is rhino horns, elephant tusks, shark fin soup, if you convince 'em it's hard to get, they want it all that much more," Smith said.

According to Oceana, shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters but buying and selling the fins is not, leading to massive declines in shark populations around the world. The organisation is urging Congress to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act to ban the practice nationwide.

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"The seizure in Miami of 635kg of shark fins being shipped from Latin America to Asia speaks to the worldwide crisis facing sharks. Up to US$73 million of these majestic animals are butchered each year for their fins.

The United States plays a key role as an international transit hub for shark fins," Sara Amundson, President of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, told CBS News.

 "It is time for the U.S. Senate to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. Sharks are worth more alive than in a bowl of soup."