4

Shark Fin Soup May Be Bad For the Brain, Say UM Scientists

^
Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Miami and help keep the future of New Times free.

That adage "fish is brain food" may be true, but that's a fisherman's tale when it comes to shark. A new study conducted by University of Miami scientists found high concentrations of BMAA in shark fins; this is a neurotoxin linked to degenerative brain diseases such as Lou Gehrig's, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Sharks are among the most threatened marine species because they are killed primarily for their fins, which are used to make a Chinese soup that denotes wealth and power.

Shark fins are acquired from a process called finning, where the fin is cut off immediately after the shark is caught and the rest of the animal is thrown in the water to die.

The study draws a link between the consumption of shark fin soup--and dietary supplements such as cartilage pills--and significant health problems. Any shark fin is used to make the soup, but only seven species of shark caught in South Florida waters were tested in the study: blacknose, blacktip, bonnethead, bull, hammerhead, lemon and nurse sharks.

"The thing is very little has been done on BMAA because it is a new wave, a new understanding," says Neil Hammerschlag, co-author of the study. "We're only starting to understand the scope of the problem."

Hammerschlag says the concentrations of BMAA get higher up the food chain through a process called biomagnification. Hammerschlag

knew that BMAA was found in certain types of marine life and had a hunch

that sharks might contain the neurotoxin since they are an apex

predator.He worked with colleagues at the Miller School of Medicine to get an answer.

BMAA is found in cyanobacteria, a type of bacteria that obtains energy through photosynthesis; it's commonly found in the waters of South Florida and is eaten by other aquatic marine animals, which are in turn consumed by the sharks.

"Generally when you move higher up in the food chain you get higher levels of toxins," says Hammerschlag. "There are certain fishes in our area, including blue crab, that contain BMAA."

Considered the "food of emperors," shark fins are mostly eaten in China. Finning is illegal in several countries, including the United States, but remains unregulated in international waters.

Most of the harvested shark fins are shipped to Hong Kong and China where there they are shipped worldwide.

Shark fins are a rare item in Chinese seafood markets in Miami, although some restaurants like the King Palace Chinese Bar-B-Q in North Miami Beach still sell it ($16.95 a bowl, with chicken or shrimp).

Hammerschlag hopes the study will curb the demand for shark fin soup. "I believe that people will hopefully alter what they're eating," he says. "As a result there will be less of a demand and less sharks will be killed."

Follow Short Order on Facebook and Twitter @Short_Order.

Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.