Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mercury in Shark Fins: another strategy to move public opinion

On the shark fin soup front, U.S.-based WildAid has been making some progress, working with several Asian environmental NGOs and government agencies. It's a multi-faceted strategy that includes the arguments against the cruelty of shark finning, the shark's inability to counter the drop in its population due to its slow reproductive rate, and the importance of sharks in maintaining an overall healthy marine ecosystem.

These are arguments we have all heard before - or even used ourselves to enlighten others - and it seems to be bearing some fruit, as it continues to get plenty of attention with the Asian press, and several organizations - including a major new resort on Singapore's Sentosa Island - have stricken shark fin soup from the menu.

For those who are unimpressed or oblivious to the cruelty of shark finning and the impact of declining shark populations on marine ecosystems, there is another strategic tact available: alerting them to the impact on their own health.

As is the case with several other pelagic predators, the mercury level in sharks is very high - particularly in the fins as the cellular makeup of the tissue is one that bonds strongly with mercury. A recent test of 10 fin samples taken in Hong Kong showed that 8 samples contained unsafe levels of mercury. Other tests throughout Asia have shown similar results. Using the Mercury Calculator offered by, even the meat of the shark is exceedingly high in mercury (8 oz. delivers over 4x the amount considered safe by the EPA for a 165 lb. person).

In the body, mercury does not break down, so it accumulates in sharks who feed on contaminated fish over their 20 to 30+ year lifespan. The impact of mercury on children, the unborn, and adults - ranging from mental impairment, deformities, and worse - has been well documented.

Ironic that one of the factors that might protect sharks from our destructive fishing practices is a form of contamination that we ourselves imposed on the sharks. Looks like sharks have the means to bite us back without ever opening their jaws!

To learn more about WildAid's efforts to move public opinion regarding shark products, go to their web site or download their press kit.


Anonymous said...

People worried about mercury ingestion from fish can estimate exposure by entering their weight, fish choice and serving size into the new calculator for cell phone browsers. It’s based on current U. S. EPA and FDA guidelines, weak as they are. Learn more about mercury-laden fish at or

RTSea said...

Thanks for the reminder. I mention in the posting and if people go to the site, they can choose between the computer or mobile phone browser versions. Incidentally, the same dual-version approach is available for the Seafood Watch program offered by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.