Shark Cartilage
Blue Shark © Fiona Ayerst.

Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue that forms the skeleton of sharks and parts of the skeletons of other animals, such as the human ear and nose.

Traditionally, shark cartilage has been consumed as a food and health supplement in the Far East, however this product is globally available and can still be found in many health food shops and pharmacies. Commercial shark cartilage supplements are primarily composed of chondroitin sulphate - a key component in human cartilage that is essential to joint health. Supplements are believed to help a variety of conditions, including arthritis, shingles, rheumatism, haemorrhoids, psoriasis, inflammatory disorders and even cancer treatment. However there is no clinical evidence to support the claims that shark cartilage has any beneficial, medicinal effect.

Shark cartilage is not unique; mammal and bovine cartilage also have similar properties, yet as sharks have entirely cartilaginous skeletons they are seen to represent a more viable source for pharmaceutical use.

Cartilage is less valuable than shark fins or meat, and so is usually procured as a by-product of shark fisheries. Unsustainable shark fishing is a threat to shark populations worldwide, and the sale of products from such fisheries threatens to deplete vulnerable species. Although the Shark Trust supports full utilisation of landed sharks, all commercial products provide added incentive for unsustainable shark fisheries and serve to boost the value of dead sharks rather than encourage the value of live sharks.