Shark Cartilage for TCM is Often Cruelly Harvested

By Dr. Melissa Carr on August 24, 2009

Sharkwater, a documentary about sharks, highlights the cruelty of finning, a method of harvesting shark cartilage by cutting fins off of live sharks before throwing them back in the water to die. Image courtesy of Sharkwater.com. sharks finning cartilage tcm health cancer traditional-chinese-medicine arthritis holistic oceans ecosystemLast month I went to see the movie Sharkwater. My husband was excited because he loves sharks, and he thought the movie would be an action movie showing sharks as dangerous man-eaters, like in the movie Jaws.

Instead, the movie starts off in an underwater sequence with a diver, Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart, quietly sitting on the bottom of an ocean floor hugging a shark. No bloodthirsty man-hunting creatures from the deep dark here.

I have to admit that whenever I have entered the water—as a kid, even a swimming pool—I have had a small thought that sits with me: "What if a shark attacks me?"

This fear many people experience is one of the reasons why saving sharks is not as popular as saving seals, whales, or pandas. Sharks are not cute and do not appear to be gentle; instead, they seem to be menacing, even mean. That's just human nature to attribute character to other living beings based on appearance.

Rob Stewart, however, has seen through all that and has a real passion for saving sharks. Even when he risks losing a leg—not from a shark bite, but from an infection—his thoughts are still on how quickly he can return to the ocean to continue his work for sharks.

Whether you like them or not, the fact of the matter is our world needs sharks. Sharks have populated the Earth's waters for more than 400 million years. They are top marine predators, keeping the oceans healthy by playing a key role in balancing the population levels of their prey. Again and again we have seen the ecological problems that result from taking out a key player in an ecosystem, yet we're killing sharks at an alarming rate.

About 100 million sharks are killed each year by humans. Over the past 15 years we've depleted some shark populations by 80 to 90 percent, leaving great whites, hammerheads, and many others on the brink of extinction.

Sharks are being hunted because one pound of dried shark fin can be sold for as much as $300, as it is considered a delicacy by some Asian populations. Others feel sharks are dangerous and should be killed, and some people like the "sport" of catching sharks. Another threat to sharks is they can be accidentally caught by longline fishing, which also catches dolphins, swordfish, and many other marine animals.

Shark cartilage has been touted as a cancer cure, often due to the inaccurate belief that sharks are immune to cancer, but there is no conclusive evidence that shark cartilage can treat cancers. Others believe that shark cartilage can help treat arthritis, but the jury is out on this one.

The first rule of medicine is "do no harm." I take this to pertain to not only doing no harm to my patients, but also to doing as much as possible to avoid harm to other creatures and our environment. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes rhinoceros horn, tiger bone, and bear gallbladder have health benefits, but these "herbs" are banned for use in North America because the first two animals are endangered, and the method of extracting bear gallbladder is cruel.

If you watch Sharkwater you will see finning, a brutal act that involves cutting fins off live sharks, after which they are tossed back into the water to sink helplessly to the bottom, where they will be eaten by other fish or drown. It's barbaric. It's an industry. It's even political.

Rob Stewart has dedicated his life to changing all of that. My focus remains in my clinic, but I want to contribute in my own way, so I took a look at all of my products and found shark cartilage in my one of them. Though the company is doing the best they can to obtain the shark cartilage in a way that is as sustainable as possible, the fiscal rewards for suppliers are still very high, thus making it more likely that people will sidestep proper guidelines and regulations. If you are using shark products, consider that there are many other options that have proven more effective, are cruelty-free, and are easier on our environment.

If you want to see the trailer, find out more about the film, or buy the movie—which features a shark fin mafia, pirate boat collision, charges of attempted murder, a Coast Guard chase, amazing scenery, and education about a desperately important cause—visit Sharkwater.com.


By Dr. Melissa Carr| August 24, 2009
Categories:  Care

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Dr. Melissa Carr

Dr. Melissa Carr

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