Ocean News

Link Between Neurotoxins in Shark Fins and Brain Diseases

5th March 2012

A new study by University of Miami scientists, just published in the journal Marine Drugs, has discovered high concentrations of BMAA in shark fins, a neurotoxin linked to neurodegenerative diseases in humans including Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig Disease (ALS). The study suggests that consumption of shark fin soup and cartilage pills may pose a significant health risk for degenerative brain diseases.

This follows a SOSF-sponsored study done by Prof. Mahmood Shivji, a marine scientist and director of the Save Our Seas Shark Centre at Nova Southeastern University, Florida. This study revealed that 86%-100% of all tested fins contained heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, and lead. More importantly:

Over 45% of the fins exceeded maximum permitted safety standards for total mercury, lead or total arsenic as promulgated by the Hong Kong government, despite these safety standards being amongst the most liberal (i.e., least conservative among national standards that we have been able to obtain) for lead and total arsenic.

The new University of Miami study adds to this growing body of literature on the health risks of shark fin consumption by humans.

The new study found levels of between 144 and 1836 ng/mg of BMAA, which overlapped the levels measured in the brains of Alzheimer’s and ALS victims. “Not only does this work provide important information on one probable route of human exposure to BMAA, it may lead to a lowering of the demand for shark fin soup and consumption of shark products, which will aid ocean conservation efforts,” added Neil Hammerschlag, co-author of the study.

The question is, will increasing evidence of the health dangers of shark product consumption – never mind the massive ecological consequences we are already experiencing in some place – lead to a decline in demand?