NEWS AND OPINION: To be accurate, many shark species are already endangered in part because of shark fin soup. However, the news today is that a vaccine against coronavirus may result in the slaughter of 500,000 sharks in order to harvest an oil from their livers called squalene, which is used as an adjuvant, an ingredient that boosts the potency of vaccines by prompting a stronger immune response.
The British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline already uses shark squalene in flu vaccines. They have stated that they intend to manufacture a billion doses of a Covid-19 vaccine containing the adjuvant squalene. An organisation called Shark Allies have argued that this would result in the slaughter of half a million sharks over the forthcoming years. They say that the shark population is finite, which of course it is, and that most shark species are already at critical levels. They cannot withstand an increase in demand for this oil as proposed.
It is ironic that the coronavirus pandemic was caused by animal abuse at a wet market in Wuhan, China. Either that or it was deliberately spread for economic reasons but that is another matter and it is highly speculative. No matter, the point is that the pandemic was arguably caused by animal abuse and now humankind has to perpetrate another mass animal abuse in order to get themselves out of the problem. When does the animal abuse stop? How far does humankind have to go in its perpetual desire the use and abuse animals for entertainment, medicine, you name it.
The report states that squalene can be manufactured from bacteria, sugarcane, olive oil and possibly algae so there are alternative sources but – and this is the usual “but” – it is cheaper to kill sharks and harvest their livers. The big Pharma companies will probably argue that squalene is more effective which is why they have to kill sharks rather than manufacture it artificially.
Eleven species of shark are Critically Endangered, 15 species are Endangered, 48 species are Vulnerable and 67 species are Near Threatened under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species categorisations of survivability of wild species in the wild. There are 465 species of shark as assessed by this organisation. There are, though, almost double its number of shark species so the remainder have not been assessed.
Shark finning is highly abusive and cruel. A shark is caught and the fins are removed and kept while the alive shark is returned to the water. The shark dies from blood loss or is killed by a predator. The loss of its fins can cause the shark to suffocate because they help to pass water across their gills. The shortfin mako, oceanic, sandbar, silky, tiger, bull and hammerhead shark species are the ones that are predominantly subjected to this abuse. In America the Shark Conservation Act 2010 made it illegal to remove the fins or tail of a shark in the wild. However, many US states can still legally buy and sell shark fins. There are plans to prohibit the sale of shark fins nationwide. It is no surprise that shark fin soup is a status dish in Asian countries, notably China. It goes back a thousand years.