The trappings of a tourist trip to South Beach have changed over the decades. White linen suits became "I'm in Miami Bitch" shirts. String bikinis became bizarre fishnet dresses (albeit still worn over string bikinis). The circle of life. Throughout it all, however, there has been one creepy constant: sharks in a motherf---ing jar.
Anyone who's spent time in one of Lincoln Road's many trinket shops has seen them -- tiny, ten-inch creatures suspended in a mysterious blue liquid and simply labeled "Shark." But there are signs that SoBe's sharks in a jar are becoming an endangered species.
Wings, one of Lincoln Road mall's most popular shops, is getting rid of the infamous souvenir because of customer complaints. It's not a day too soon according to animal rights activists.
"I do not understand how a dead animal in a jar is something people would want to bring home as a souvenir," says Jillian Morris, founder of Sharks4Kids. "It is disgusting and unnecessary. As consumers we can make responsible choices to not purchase shark products and spread the message for others to do the same. Hopefully these items will be removed from store shelves in the near future."
But where do the sharks actually come from? Riptide set out to discover the source of the strange souvenir. The search began at South Beach's biggest souvenir shop: Alvin's Island on the corner of Lincoln and Collins. Two dozen small sharks floated near the front window like a strange science experiment. They had no sticker saying where they came from, just a price tag of $16.99.
"Why do you want to know?" asked the manager, who refused to give his name. "We don't give out the information of our suppliers."
Cater-corner at Wings, the same sharks were on sale for $5.98. "We're getting rid of them because so many people have complained," a manager explained. "That's why they are on clearance.
"I think they are raised in pools," she added. "They aren't from the ocean, I know that."
Little is certain about the cartilaginous curios except that they are controversial. In recent months, anger about the pickled fish has swirled on social media sites. In February, a Hawaiian TV station aired an exposé on a store selling the sharks as local spirit animals. In fact, the sharks had come from South Florida.
Morris says she has traced the sharks to the Fort Lauderdale company Holiday Souvenirs. The company's website indeed sells sharks in jars. State records show Holiday Souvenirs is run by Manuel and Barbara Pascal out of a small warehouse near Oakland Park Boulevard and NE Fifth Avenue. The Pascals, who also run Holiday Rentals, did not return Riptide's requests for comment.
Sharks have become increasingly protected in the United States. In 2011, California passed legislation banning the possession or sale of shark fins, considered a delicacy by some Chinese-Americans. A similar effort failed in Florida in 2012, however.
Online posts often identify the souvenirs as dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus) pups. But shark expert David Shiffman tells New Times that pictures of the critter look more like the dusky smooth-hound (Mustelus canis), also known as the smooth dogfish. It's a big difference. Dusky sharks are protected in Florida, which would likely make the souvenirs illegal. However, smooth dogfish are one of a few species of shark that can be caught no matter how small.
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Either way, tourists are increasingly turned off by the sharks in jars. Even some of the people selling them are upset. At Surf Style Miami Beach on Lincoln Road, an employee picked up one of the jars and then put it down in disgust.
"Ay, que crimen," she said. "Es horrible."