Thursday, September 3, 2009

WildAid Strategy: mercury poisoning a threat to shark consumers

Over the years, WildAid has focused much of its efforts on raising public awareness to the plight of endangered animals, whether it's tigers, sharks, or elephants. This effort often requires taking the issue directly to the people with advertising, public relations, and celebrity endorsements that often engender the wrath of governments or other official agencies that care not for the bad press and the intrusion of foreigners. Not an easy task.

WildAid is currently focusing their anti-shark finning campaigns on a new angle. Besides making people in China and other Asian countries aware as to the extent of commercial shark fishing and what it means to shark populations and the overall health of the marine ecosystem, WildAid is also pushing to make people aware of the personal threat from consuming shark products.

Many pelagic fish - swordfish, tuna, and particularly cartilaginous fish like sharks - have an ability to retain pollutants in their tissues, pollutants that enter the ocean either directly from coastal pollution or from being discharged into the air from factories and energy plants. Mercury is one of the primary pollutants that have been found in high levels, much higher than what is considered safe.

According to WildAid:
Steve Trent, president of U.S.-headquartered Wild Aid, said it was important for China, the world's largest consumer of shark fins, to promote public awareness of the protection of this animal which is feared on the verge of extinction.

Eating the fins may also be dangerous, said Trend, who also heads the Wild Aid's London Office. Research shows they contain heavy metals such as mercury, which can cause damage to the nervous system and male infertility." lists an 8 oz. portion of shark for person weighing 175 pounds, as having 4 times the weekly allowed amount of mercury, as defined by the EPA. That's 4 weeks worth of mercury in one sitting!

For those who don't care about the fate of sharks or that of other pelagic predators, perhaps knowing that they are also harming themselves might make them think twice. The same self-centeredness that propels them to consume these animals might make them think twice when they are aware of the personal harm to which they are exposed.

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