Cyanobacterial neurotoxin bmaa and mercury in sharks

Neil Hammerschlag, Davida Davis, Kiyo Mondo, Matthews Seely, Susanj Murch, William Brocglover, Timothy Divoll, Davidc Evers, Deborah C. Mash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Sharks have greater risk for bioaccumulation of marine toxins and mercury (Hg), because they are long-lived predators. Shark fins and cartilage also contain β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), a ubiquitous cyanobacterial toxin linked to neurodegenerative diseases. Today, a significant number of shark species have found their way onto the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Many species of large sharks are threatened with extinction due in part to the growing high demand for shark fin soup and, to a lesser extent, for shark meat and cartilage products. Recent studies suggest that the consumption of shark parts may be a route to human exposure of marine toxins. Here, we investigated BMAA and Hg concentrations in fins and muscles sampled in ten species of sharks from the South Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. BMAA was detected in all shark species with only seven of the 55 samples analyzed testing below the limit of detection of the assay. Hg concentrations measured in fins and muscle samples from the 10 species ranged from 0.05 to 13.23 ng/mg. These analytical test results suggest restricting human consumption of shark meat and fins due to the high frequency and co-occurrence of two synergistic environmental neurotoxic compounds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number238
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 16 2016


  • Conservation
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Methylmercury
  • Total mercury
  • β-N-methylamino-L-alanine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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