There are few animals on this planet who invoke more blood curdling fear than sharks. Movies depict them invading shallow waters and terrorizing the masses, but in reality, human beings are the sharks’ most hostile predator. Although this sea creature is crucial to managing a healthy ocean ecosystem, millions each year are caught by humans and slaughtered.
Due to the demand for shark fin soup in Asian countries, approximately one hundred million sharks are slaughtered annually. There is a less talked about, yet just as deadly multimillion-dollar industry killing millions of deep sea sharks. Which one you ask? The cosmetic industry. Yes, the cosmetic industry! Daily, consumers unknowingly use products containing the ingredient squalene, derived from deep sea shark livers. High in fatty acids and antioxidants, squalene is a main moisturizing agent found in products such as anti-aging creams, lotions, eye shadow, lipstick, lip balm, lotions and hair conditioner. It is also found in deodorants, sunscreen, health supplements, and even household cleaners.
Nature has provided deep sea sharks with extra fat in their livers to maintain buoyancy while navigating deep waters. It is this extra fatty liver which wretchedly leaves the deep sea shark so vulnerable to shark fishermen. Squalene is the main naturally occurring organic compound in shark liver oil and squalane is the saturated form. The annual global demand for squalene is estimated at 1,000-2,000 tons. It takes approximately 3,000 sharks to make just 1 ton of squalene. This means an astounding 6 million deep sea sharks are killed annually for their livers. Several of the fifty shark species killed are on The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. These statistics reveal the excessive targeting of these sharks is causing a dramatic population decline of certain species, all in the name of beauty. The deep sea sharks cannot recover fast enough from this excessive over-fishing as they grow slowly and reproduce infrequently. The European Union has responded to this crisis by structuring a phase-out, targeting deep sea shark fisheries. For example, in parts of Australia, fishing regulations and closures have been introduced in a frantic attempt to protect the country’s remaining, unguarded, deep sea sharks.
You may be surprised to learn there is a viable plant-based option to shark based squalene and squalane. It can be derived from olive oil, amaranth seeds, rice bran, wheat germ, fungi and date palm. Manufacturers report these alternatives contain a lower amount of the oil, requiring more effort to harvest this alternative. It is approximately 30% more expensive to use the plant or vegetable based method. Sadly, these two factors, quantity and price, are significant enough to drive manufactures to seek shark squalene and squalane instead. This is contributing to the real possibility of deep sea shark extinction.
Why are consumers unaware of what they are purchasing?
Unfortunately, there is a lack in labeling laws for sourcing and companies are under no legal obligation to disclose if shark based squalene and squalane are in their products. Additionally, some manufactures falsely promote squalane as the plant based alternative, when in fact it is the saturated form of the shark liver oil squalene.
As consumers, if we are purchasing products listing squalene or squalane as an ingredient, it is imperative to look for labeling which states they are 100% plant-derived/based, 100% vegetable derived/based, or 100% plant/vegetable. In recent years, the percentage of consumer awareness has dramatically increased as more people are becoming aware of the issues facing our marine life. Therefore, we are seeing a shift in the cosmetic market with more ethical and plant/vegetable companies emerging. Although some companies have made this shift, globally the shark still remains the prime source for these ingredients.
Sharks are one of the top predators in our waters and are crucial to maintaining biodiversity. Deep sea sharks also aid in removing carbon, a contributor to climate change, from our waters by feeding on matter which collects on the ocean floor. Their removal from our waters at such an alarming rate will no doubt have devastating effects on our marine ecosystem.
Sharks have been swimming the waters for the past 400 million years, 100 million years before dinosaurs ever walked on land. This fish is so vital to our waters, yet we are depleting the oceans of them unnecessarily. It isn’t sharks humans should fear. They should fear a world without this grand creature.
Written by Theresa Blangiforti and Judy Paolercio
Edited by Bob Stone