Pseudoscience Redux: Shark Fin propaganda

This post was originally published on September 9, 2010 as a part of our first Week of Ocean Pseudoscience. Enjoy!

Last weekend, longtime SFS reader Suzy sent me an interesting question. Suzy is Asian, and though she is a committed conservationist, several members of her family regularly eat shark fin soup. One relative just sent her a copy of a news article entitled “Shark Fin Soup: Eat it without guilt” (available here). Suzy asked me if the information in this article is correct, and how she should respond to her family members.

Though it is a few years old, I had never seen this article, and it’s a little shocking. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better example of distorting or ignoring science to promote a political agenda outside of Fox News. In short, Suzy, most of the information in here is either false or intentionally misleading.

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Ethanol additives will destroy your boat, ruin your marriage, and cause California to calve off into the sea

A non-ethanol gas station in coastal NC. Price per gallon across the street is $3.45. People are willing to pay a premium for their ethanol fears. Photo by Andrew David Thaler

Ethanol. For many boat owners in coastal North Carolina, it’s a dirty word. Since the mid 2000’s, various federal and state regulations have mandated the addition of up to 10% ethanol in gasoline. The reaction has been a combination of legitimate concern and hyperbolic declarations of doom (ecoterrorist have taken over our government and it’s a vast conspiracy to force you to buy a new car every three years – yes, someone said that too me). The rationale for federal mandates come primarily from the Energy Policy Act (2005), the Renewable Fuel Standard Program (2006), and the Energy Independence and Security Act (2007), while state mandates tend to deal with air quality and the recent appearance of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) in the drinking water (ethanol fulfills the same role as MTBE in gasoline). Renewable resources, energy independence, national security, and clean air and water, it would seem that ethanol has a little something for everyone.

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Misunderstood Marine Life # 4 – The healing power of sharks

Image from

Last year, we briefly discussed the myth that sharks don’t get cancer. This myth is easy to disprove, since sharks do, in fact, get cancer. The first cancerous tumor was discovered in a shark over 150 years ago and they have been discovered in more than twenty species. This year, I’m returning to the topic of shark medical myths.

Many parts of sharks have been utilized for their supposed medical benefits. Shark cartilage is sold as an over-the-counter alternative treatment for- you guessed it- cancer. One of the most ridiculous names it’s sold under as “BeneFin”.  According to, the shark cartilage industry is worth over $25 million a year. The basic idea behind this is that since sharks don’t get cancer, if you eat ground up shark cartilage, your cancer will be treated.

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Pseudoscience Redux: Maximum (un)Sustainable Yield

This post was originally published on September 8, 2010 as a part of our first Week of Ocean Pseudoscience. Enjoy!

In 1954 and 1957 Gordon and Schaefer respectively described the idea of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) – that is, the amount of fish that could be taken by commercial fishing operations to maximize reproduction by the system year after year. Since then, it has been heralded as the mathematical panacea to fisheries management.

Gordon and Schaefer also described the maximum economic yield which threw price relations into the mix.  It describes the point at which the fishers will make the most money, accounting for revenue and their expenses. Note in the graph below the fold that the maximum economic yield (MEY) is below the MSY in terms of effort. Gordon and Schaefer imagined a private manager or government overseer that could calculate the MEY and regulate fisher behavior in order to meet it. The idea was meant to be win-win for the fishers and the fish.

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Misunderstood Marine Life # 5 – Lionfish

Thank You Joel Rotunda,

Last time you went to an aquarium, you probably saw a lionfish swimming happily in a tank filled with a bit of coral or rocky bottom, calmly flipping its fins about in the slight current created by the water pump. Now think back to the interpretive sign next to the tank – did it say that the exhibit displayed an invader or an awesome, weird aquarium fish? Depending on which part of the world you’re in, you might get a different answer. Along the east coast of the United States, though, it should say the former. Lionfish have spread from south Florida throughout the Caribbean and up to North Carolina, where they can be found on reef habitat (either natural or manmade via the sinking of ships) at a concentration of 400 fish per square meter. And they eat everything in sight.

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Unraveling the mysteries of Steller’s Sea Ape

Last year for our Week of Ocean Pseudoscience, we counted down our top seven marine cryptids. Number seven was the elusive Steller’s Sea Ape, documented only once by renowned naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller. Even though the Sea Ape has not been seen since, Steller’s deserved reputation as a world class naturalist has kept the Sea Ape story alive. In his journal, he reports that:

During this time we were near land or surrounded by it we saw large numbers of hair seals, sea otters, fur seals, sea lions, and porpoises…. On August 10, we saw a very unusual and unknown sea animal, of which I am going to give a brief account since I observed it for two whole hours. It was about two Russian ells in length, the head was like a dog’s, with pointed, erect ears. From the upper and lower lips on both sides whiskers hung down which made it look almost like a Chinaman, The eyes were large; the body was longish round and thick, tapering gradually towards the tail. The skin seemed thickly covered with hair, of a grey color on the back, but reddish white on the belly; in the water, however, the animal appeared equally reddish and cow colored. The tail was divided into two fins, of which the upper, as in the case of sharks, was twice as large as the lower.


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It’s Not All About Carbon

Why is it that every time someone proposes a wind turbine there is immediate opposition because of consequent bird mortality? And at the same time, when we build or expand a coal operation, the reaction isn’t to remember all the miners that have sacrificed their lives so that you and I can turn on the lights? Why is the reaction to dirty coal to promote clean coal? It might help keep the carbon emissions down, but it doesn’t cut down on the human toll of coal.

Recently there have been highly publicized stories of miners trapped in deep mines in Chile, West Virginia, Kentucky, New Zealand, and China – and those are just the ones I heard about through traditional news outlets. However, the hype over such accidents quickly fades and the families and communities touched by the tragedy are left with the cleanup. These miners represent the human face and sacrifice of coal-fired electricity. They should join the ranks of the polar bear in symbolizing the need for better energy choices. Read More

The post-oil spill Gulf of Mexico

As some of you probably remember, there was an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year. You can be forgiven for not remembering it, as our news media hasn’t been talking about it very much lately. In fact, if your only source of oil spill news was the mainstream media, you probably think that the Gulf is doing great! A little over a year ago, CNN ran a story about how the BP oil well that caused the spill was “effectively dead” and was “no longer a threat to the Gulf”. CNBC (and many others) ran stories about how 75 percent of the oil from the spill was gone from the Gulf. Bloomberg reported that the Gulf would recovery completely by 2012. London’s Telegraph celebrated a dramatic recovery after only one year. Whew… things aren’t as bad as we feared, and the Gulf has almost totally recovered! Or has it?

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