5 things to know about shark squalene

5 things to know about shark squalene

You might not be slurping on shark fin soup, but are you eating / using shark without even knowing it? Is it in your face cream? Are you being injected with shark at the doctors? Are you eating it in your fish and chips?

Products containing shark are unfortunately found globally, it’s not just something consumed in Asia! It’s often called other things, from rock salmon and flake to chondroitin (from shark cartilage) and squalene (from shark liver), meaning people are consuming or using shark products without even realising it!

Read on for a summary on shark squalene and why it’s a topic you need to know about right now! This moment is critical.

1. What is squalene?

Squalene is a natural, organic oil found within our skin and is a known antioxidant. It’s traditionally sourced from shark liver oil and has many uses within the cosmetics industry, in medicines, as well as other industrial uses (e.g. as lubricants and leather tanning treatments).

If you’re on the lookout be aware of squalane too. Squalane is a saturated form of squalene in which the double bonds have been eliminated by hydrogenation. This makes the oil less susceptible to oxidation and increases its shell life within a product, meaning it’s more commonly used in personal care products.

Squalene and squalane can both come from sharks, so don’t let the ‘a’ fool you. For the sake of shark conservation conversations they are the same thing.

squalene vs squalene chemical formula

2. What is squalene being used for?

The cosmetics industry is responsible for around 90% of shark squalene, with roughly 2.7m shark livers taken each year! Squalene is marketed as a great moisturising agent so go home and check the small print on your night cream, sunscreen and conditioner etc.. Chances are there are traces of shark in your cosmetics.

Use of squalene as an adjuvant in vaccines has been getting a lot of attention in recent months. An adjuvant is intended to increase the effectiveness of a vaccine, by increasing the human body’s immune response to it. There are some vaccines already in use that use shark derived squalene adjuvants and it has also come to light that some big companies (e.g. GSK) are producing shark derived adjuvants for use in Covid-19 vaccines that are currently being tested.

A shark derived vaccine could result in around half a million more sharks being killed for their livers!

3. Impact on sharks.

While the number of sharks taken for squalene are much smaller than the 100 million taken for the shark finning industry, it still needs addressing. Sharks need protection for the overall health of our oceans, so anything we can do to reduce the demand for shark products will make a difference.

Read : Why sharks are important ocean heroes!

Half of the shark species targeted for the squalene trade are already vulnerable, with scientists suggesting there should be a ban on capturing these sharks completely. Deep sea sharks are most in demand for this industry. These kinds of sharks are targeted because they have larger livers (up 25% of their body weight) and more oil. However, deep water sharks are slow to mature and have low reproduction rates, so have particular difficulty recovering from overfishing.

4. There are viable animal free alternatives to shark squalene.

Many living things produce squalene, from animals and plants to yeasts and bacteria, even algae! So why do industries still rely on shark squalene? Well, from what we can see, because it’s cheaper.

Research has actually shown than non-shark derived squalane is as effective if not more superior (especially in the case of sugarcane-derived squalene) to shark derived squalene. Sugarcane-derived squalene is pure, easy to control and is a more consistent source than sharks. Surely we want the more reliable and sustainable source of squalene over the limited resource that are shark livers, especially if it’s key to a successful Covid-19 vaccine!?

5. The #SharkFreeVaccine campaign is gaining momentum.

It is important to note that no one is trying to hold up production of a successful Covid-19 vaccine. The goal of the campaign is to ensure the use of more sustainably sourced squalene instead of shark liver oil. It is key that sharks stop being the go to source and that non-animal derived squalene sources are always considered. Not only to protect sharks, but to ensure a more reliable supply chain.

Shark Allies have already secured over 100,000 signatures on their shark free covid-19 vaccine petition. This is only one part of there wider campaign, but it’s great to see such support for this issue!

Please help stop the use of sharks in COVID-19 vaccines by signing the Shark Allies petition here

Photo credit : @seventh.voyage

Unfortunately the burden of avoiding shark products sits largely with us, the consumer! Strong, consistent regulation of shark products is currently lacking. In fact shark is often disguised as other more appealing products when presented to consumers. Check out this helpful list of things to look out for and only buy products that transparently use non-shark derived ingredients! If unsure, then avoid the product altogether if possible.

Shark Allies site has so much information on this topic, so definitely worth giving it a look. Please let us know your thoughts on this topic and if you have any questions …


Shark Allies

Rob Stewart Sharkwater foundation


National Geographic

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