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The Shark You Bite May Kill You

What Not to Eat on a Bali Holiday: Shark Fins Soup Linked to Fatal Degenerative Brain Diseases

(3/3/2012) Endangered by overfishing and a wasteful slaughter that seeks to harvest only their fins, new research conducted by the University of Miami (U.S.A.) may have struck a major blow for the survival of shark species.

The study by University of Miami (UM) researchers and published in the scientific journal Marine Drugs has demonstrated high concentrations of beta-n-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) – a neurotoxin liked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig Disease (ALS) in shark's fin and shark's cartilage.

The study suggests that people who consume shark fin’s soup and take pills made of shark cartilage may be at significant risk of developing degenerative brain disease.

The co-author of the scientific study, Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, research assistant professor of Marine Affairs & Policy and director of the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Programs (RJD) at UM said: “Shark fins are primarily derived through finning, a practice where by shark fins are removed at sea and the rest of the mutilated animal is thrown back in the water to die. Estimates suggest that fins from as many as 70 million sharks end up in soup. As a result, many shark species are on the road to extinction. Because sharks play important roles in maintaining balance in the oceans, not only is shark fin soup injurious to the marine environment, but our study suggests that it is likely harmful to the people who are consuming them.”

Seven different species of shark were tested in the study.

The presence of BMAA in shark’s fin and shark’s cartilage should cause Chinese restaurants to review their menu content and prompt a reevaluation by those who take health supplements derived form shark bones. 

Related research shows that people dying of Alzheimer’s disease and ALS have unusually high levels of BMAA in their brains, while healthy individuals have no measurable BMAA present.

Separate studies have also found a link in to degenerative disease by people who consume fruit bats as part of their diet regime. The bats exhibit high levels of BMAA from their diet of BMAA-rich cycad seeds.

Bali rapidly rise in Chinese visitors has put added pressure on Indonesia’s shark population as visitors dine on the shark’s fin and often purchase processed shark’s fin during a Bali holiday to bring back to their country of origin.

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