Eating Shark Fins Is Sickening, Science Says

Expensive Shark Fins, Chinese Delicacy, May Be Banned In California

Dried shark fin in San Francisco’s Chinatown can cost as much as $500 a pound. Photo Credit: David Paul Morris

Not only are there no health benefits to eating shark fin, but new research shows that they are loaded with mercury and heavy metals that are 42 times higher than safe levels for humans.  Another reason to retire this tradition – eliminating the inhumane finning of live sharks who are left to sink to the bottom of the ocean and drown. – Global Animal

California lawmakers have proposed a ban on the possession and sale of shark fins — the key ingredient of shark fin soup, an ancient and prized Chinese dish. The law is intended to curtail the shark finning industry, which involves the brutal hacking off of the dorsal and pectoral fins of millions of live sharks each year.

But is there something to be gained from eating shark fins that outweighs the gross environmental harm caused by obtaining them?

Not really.

For centuries in China, shark fins were believed to contain the essence of virility, wealth and power. Apparently, though, those qualities are tasteless: Even their biggest fans admit that the fins themselves don’t have much flavor. Rather than being delicious, shark fins are loved for their texture, which is often described as “chewy,” “sinewy” and “stringy.” Texture is highly valued in general in Asian cuisine, but even so, probably doesn’t justify shark slaughter all by itself.

As for nutrition, according to resources at the Food and Nutrition Information Center, the fins don’t have much of that. They are mostly made of cartilage, which is largely devoid of vitamins.

Alternative medicine proponents say shark cartilage has cancer-fighting properties, a claim that has its origins in a mistaken belief that sharks do not get cancer. They do, though, and according to the National Cancer Institute, only one randomized clinical study on shark cartilage as a human cancer treatment has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and it showed the cartilage to be ineffective.

“We tested whether a pharmaceutical that was an extract of shark cartilage would increase survival in lung cancer patients,” said Charles Lu, an oncologist at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston who led that study in 2010. He and his colleagues supplemented normal chemotherapy treatment with doses of the shark extract in a randomized subset of 397 patients. “Unfortunately we saw no improvement in survival in [that subset],” Lu told Life’s Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience.

In fact, shark fins can be extremely unhealthy. Like many other fish products, they have been known to contain dangerously high levels of mercury. Mercury comes from ocean pollution, and, at the top of the food chain, sharks retain higher levels of the substance than most marine creatures.

A 2001 report by the watchdog group Wild Aid found that levels of the poisonous heavy metal found in shark fins from Hong Kong — which get distributed to cities all over the world — were 42 times higher than safe limits for humans.

So, in short, health risks, rather than benefits, will be eliminated with the passing of the California ban.


Why Are 100 Million Sharks Killed Every Year?

First Step To End Shark Finning: Saying No To Tradition

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5 Responses to Eating Shark Fins Is Sickening, Science Says

  1. Stop Shark Finning (@stopfinning) June 5, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    The culture excuse is bogus. It’s one of the very few pathetic excuses the shark finning industry could come up with. Why not use the same excuse for tiger paw soup, elephant ear soup, or any other ridiculous recipe they could come up with. It’s only in the last few decades that shark fin soup has been consumed so heavily. It’s because there are now more wealthy people in China and shark fin soup has become a status symbol – nothing to do with culture. And what about the right of every other person on the planet to be able to enjoy these wonderful animals? What about of the right of sharks to *exist* – as a species? What about the health of the oceans? Stop shark finning, stop killing sharks!!

  2. FourFooted Messiah August 22, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    I don’t see why we  need to be culturally sensitive to superstition.  It was bad enough we had our own homegrown science dummies, we had to import more.

     If they don’t like Canadian (or Californian) humane laws … [content removed per Global Animal comment policy].

    • Save our oceans August 22, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

      Canadian humane laws? What about the barbaric seal slaughter which happens every year. Nothing humane about it.

  3. Peter August 22, 2011 at 7:18 am #

    Easy mate, don’t put 1.4 billion people in the same box. I have Chinese friends that are appalled by shark finning. It’s just a matter of changing what the Chinese consider a tradition and level of status.

  4. Bambi Ghys March 26, 2011 at 6:50 am #

    No soup for me.