Sharks have become something of an icon in American pop culture. Take the 1975 blockbuster "Jaws" (and its three sequels), for example, or Shark Week, Discovery Channel’s annual week of shark-based programming. Americans are clearly fascinated by sharks, but what about eating them? Is shark meat safe for human consumption?

The Science of Eating Sharks

According to both the FDA and the EPA, the answer is no. As one of the longest-living marine animals, sharks consume many smaller fish during their lifetimes. As a result, harmful metals and chemicals build up in shark meat, putting those who eat it at risk. 

Sharks contain some of the highest levels of mercury, a toxin that has been linked to loss of coordination, blindness, and death.

Eating high-mercury foods isn’t beneficial for anyone, but it's especially dangerous for pregnant women and young children.

So Why Are People Still Eating It?

Unfortunately, knowledge of the dangers hasn't wiped out the practice completely. Shark fin soup has been a luxury item in Chinese culture for hundreds of years and remains a symbol of high social status and hospitality. Shark fins sell for $400 per kilogram while shark fin soup can cost anywhere from $70 to $100. 

Shark fin soup is not only expensive to buy, but has moral and environmental costs as well. Because of the high price of shark fins, many fishermen will catch sharks, cut off their fins, and release them back into the ocean to die in an act of animal cruelty called finning.

Over 100 million sharks die at the hands of the fishing industry, leading to declining marine life populations and destabilizing the food system. 

So no matter how much your friend who studied abroad in China brags about the shark fin soup they tried, don't buy into it. You owe it to your health and to our ecosystem.

For more info, check out the Environmental Defense Fund's Seafood Selector to learn how to be more responsible about your fish consumption.