Questions about manta rays harvested for traditional Chinese medicine

With habits difficult to track and observe, manta rays are feared threatened by overfishing and use of their parts for “medicine”.

Scientists rush to save manta rays, the ‘pandas of the ocean’ – Behind The Wall.

Anecdotal evidence suggests mantas are under threat, and China may be a major reason for it.

Manta rays are vulnerable on two fronts: as bycatch — getting caught in industrial fishing nets targeting different types of tuna — and, increasingly, because of traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM.

Manta rays are harvested for their gill rakers, which allow the fish to filter food from water. Some Chinese believe they have healing properties or are good at cleaning out toxins. One Chinese-language website claims gill rakers enhance the immune system, promote blood circulation and aid in the treatment of cancer, skin disease and infertility.

“It’s just cartilage,” said Dewar, echoing skepticism expressed by many scientists.

The article makes two more interesting points. One, that the number of mantas living and the number caught are unknown. But their reproduction is slow so that bodes ill for their recovery from heavy capture which is suspected. Second, the use of gill rakers is apparently NOT traditional. There is no history of it as medicine. It’s just a fad.

As an alternative, mantas are just as important for tourism (recreational diving). That is, if they are kept alive.

  5 comments for “Questions about manta rays harvested for traditional Chinese medicine

  1. oldebabe
    November 24, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    Just another anecdote by me, below. Whether these are/were `manta’, or if it makes any difference, I dunno.

    ISTM, if I can trust my aging memories that there are/were also rays in the Gulf of California – when I was in San Felipe years ago – I heard warnings re: about divers who had not been careful and had been `stung’… painfully… Maybe any medicine needs to be inserted or taken otherwise. :-)

  2. November 24, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    Is there ANYTHING the Chinese don’t use in folk medicine?

  3. Phil
    November 24, 2012 at 10:19 PM

    I’ve never heard this manta ray in TCM before. Is this new?

    • November 24, 2012 at 10:40 PM

      We had an earlier story on this. It shows up in related posts. But as the story notes, it seems there is nothing traditional about this. That TCM practitioners, or whomever, can just INVENT curatives is even more disturbing than the sick ones they have already.

      • Phil
        November 25, 2012 at 2:12 AM

        Ok thanks, My late mother was ethnic Chinese and I don’t ever recall manta ray being in the same class as rhino or tiger or even seahorses. Just in case anyone was wondering, this seems to be a recent “invention”. We all know the roots of many modern medications are derived from plants or even animals, but are refined and the active ingredient identified. Furthermore, increased dosage should show more effect. In the case on mantas, gill rakers are modified cartilage. Cartilage from elasmobranchs have not been shown to be effective for anything except drawing money from your wallet if you order sharks fin soup. Notice that TCM uses the heads I win tails you lose argument. If modern science shows an effect, TCM practitioners jump on it. If there is no result, TCM says oh you don’t understand how TCM works!

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