Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Shark Attack

Scientists in south Florida have been spending a large amount of time studying sharks. More specifically, Bull Sharks, whose aggressive, nasty disposition and frequent run ins with humans don't make them local favorites. Apparently, these Bull Sharks are unique in that they spend the first year or so of their lives in fresh water rivers where human pollutants often get dumped.

And that is why they are being studied. See, these crazy fish have all sorts of things pumping through them. Stuff like Prozac, synthetic estrogen found in birth control pills and cholesterol lowering drugs like Lipitor we flush down the toilet. Since they tend to swim in that nasty fresh water that is near the water treatment plants, they are absorbing all of our waste.

I mean that literally, too. While many people may be flushing expired or unusable pills down the toilet, one of the biggest pollutants is our own urine. Especially when on drugs. Our bodies pass large traces of any of the drugs we use, which is why urine tests are so effective. We take drugs, we pee, we pass it along to the water treatment plant (which only treat for bacteria, not prescription drugs), which then pumps it into the rivers where these Bull Sharks are swimming around.

Florida is nurturing some of the mellowest, healthiest sharks in history. Of course, some know-it-all scientists are concerned about this. Seems the drugs may be having an effect on the reproduction cycle of the sharks. Absorbing birth control pills can do that. Plus there is always the chance the sharks may increase their drug usage and start trying to score crystal meth from the catfish downstream. Soon they'll be fish drug wars with fins being sent in the mail as warnings to other fish or seahorse heads showing up in the crawfish's bed. It would get ugly.

The easy solution is to start having the local residents take Viagra. That should get the sharks blood moving in the right direction. But easy solutions are never the way. Instead Jim Gelsleichter, who works for Mote Marine's Center for Shark Research in Sarasota, wants to take blood from at least 20 more sharks and tag 50-100 more with chemical detecting discs for further research. Considering their usual attitude, Gelsleichter may want a bit more Prozac flushed before he undertakes that project.

There is also the unknown impact of the other fish life in the rivers. Since Bull Sharks are bigger and can have blood drawn without killing them (always a plus), they are the logical subjects. However, there have been other similar studies. One in the UK found that male flounder are growing female body parts. The direct result being male flounder never leaving the house and spending all their time feeling themselves up. Synthetic estrogens found in the rivers are thought to be the cause.

Currently many don't believe the drugs to be a major cause for concern, but they may push endangered species like the sawfish over the edge. I'm also a bit concerned what happens to the sharks if they get their fins on steroids. Only further research will provide the answers.

Let's not forget, too, that we eat a lot of these fish. So, if you're feeling a bit depressed, head down to South Florida and order up a Bull Shark burger. They're the first, honest to goodness, feel good food. Just don't eat any if you're trying to have a baby.

Today's distraction: Play Fishy. Rules are simple, eat smaller fish to get bigger, while avoiding the bigger fish.

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