Sharks are taking more mercury on board. But there isn’t enough data here, it’s a missing link in the knowledge pool, says Jonathan Ali Khan. Image Credit: Francois Nel/XPRESS

Dubai: Suspected health risks of shark meat sold in the UAE will be investigated in a new TV documentary.

Shark Quest Arabia will probe whether the sharks have dangerously high levels of mercury, which is linked to brain damage and infertility. 

Mercury enters the oceans as pollution from industries and sharks can have high mercury levels as they pile it on from contaminated prey.

Toxic shark is a global concern but remains unexplored in the UAE, said filmmaker Jonathan Ali Khan. "Sharks are on top of the food chain, they are taking more mercury on board. But there isn't enough data here, it's a missing link in the knowledge pool," said Khan, 51. 

Early last year, sharks sold in Taiwan were found to have mercury levels several times above safety limits, he added.

In the UAE, no such studies have been done, said Khan. "It's very difficult to find Emiratis active in this field. The key to any decision-making process is information — which isn't there.

"You need testing from fishing and landing sites, biopsy samples. You need a small tissue or blood specimen. But some fishermen don't take too kindly to that — they're getting a bit more defensive."

Findings of the documentary will be ready some time next year. The two-part series will also track developments in shark numbers and species, many of which are under threat from over-fishing, he said.

Shark has always been part of the local diet in the coastal Gulf country, but a booming population and sky-rocketing demand for shark fin soup are eating away at fish stocks, added Khan, a British environmentalist who has lived in the UAE since 1987.

"There are massive displays of small sharks and baby sharks in Dubai's fish markets — that's not a good sign. They haven't had the chance to reproduce. I've seen a large hammerhead shark pregnant with 40 pups. This is happening on a daily basis," Khan added.

The documentary is a project of Khan's Wild Planet Productions and might be distributed by National Geographic Television International according to Khan.

There are also plans to have the documentary available on DVD.