By Tracy Cabrera
AMIDST an announcement by American drug maker Pfizer of its initial success in formulating a vaccine for Covid-18, members of a shark conservation group issued a warning about the use of shark oil derivatives in the manufacture of the vaccine which could lead to the death of more than half million sharks.
No one is suggesting, however, that humans should die instead but the conservationists point out that there is a non-animal version of the same substance that’s identical and totally appropriate for this usage.
The issue, of course, is the cost, they added.
Shark Allies, a nonprofit that advocates for the protection of sharks, projects that some 500,000 sharks could be killed if a coronavirus vaccine with shark squalene proves to be effective. Already, an estimated 2.7 million sharks are killed annually for their squalene to make cosmetics, according to the group.
Sharks are already killed by the millions each year for purposes like shark fin soup; meanwhile, the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) reports just five shark-related deaths in 2018. The situation is not good for the world’s 400 shark species,
According to WWF, “shark populations around the world are in rapid decline.”
Sharks grow relatively slowly, the group explained, adding that though considered as the ocean’s number one predator, sharks take many years to mature and produce relatively few young.
“They also suffer from the large and growing demand for shark fins and the general lack of management of shark fishing. Populations simply cannot replenish at the same rate as they are caught and finned to meet market demand. Sharks are also often caught as by catch in long lines, trawl nets and seine nets, and simply discarded,” Shark Allies likewise pointed out.
Just five of the 193 vaccine candidates use squalene, which is also far from the only animal-derived material researchers use in vaccines and other medicines. But the quest to outmode these materials isn’t simply a question of animal rights.
“Our ask is that we start testing the alternatives, because long term, we cannot rely on a wild animal resource for a global need of anything,” Shark Allies director Stefanie Brendl disclosed in an interview by National Public Radio (NPR). “Honestly, this makes a lot of sense, and not only because the world is rapidly running out of costly fossil fuels that we’ve made the centerpiece of our entire transit economy.”
Sustainable squalene alternatives include olive oil, sugar cane, wheat germ, bacteria, and yeast, NPR reports. In addition, olive oil is a little bit precious, but sugar, wheat, bacteria, and yeasts are a gigantic portion of Earth’s output. Investing in developing these squalene sources could help to rebalance an ocean food chain missing millions of parts that range from gentle bottom-feeders to apex predators.
It could also mean a clear path forward for squalene-based cosmetics and medicines regardless of whatever path the shark population takes as oceans heat, stagnate, and acidify. (ia)