Warning: Contains Shark

Many people assume that because they don’t eat shark fin soup, they can’t possibly be contributing to the demise of the sharks and rays. And while shark fin soup does account for a considerable amount of shark consumption, there are many other culprits. Many – even the most avid of conservationists – are shocked to realize, unknowingly, they’ve been contributing to the decimation of sharks. It’s quite likely you’ve consumed shark – and even have products containing sharks in your home – without being aware of it. There’s even shark in many of our cosmetics!

In Sharkwater Extinction, Rob Stewart embarks on a journey to uncover the industries driving the slaughter of sharks. To say it is startling to discover what shark is actually used in is putting it mildly. Many products are completely unrecognizable or don’t contain the word shark in the product name. Certain supplements, pet foods, vitamins, make up, lotions, fertilizer, and even lipsticks – to name but a few – are all known to contain shark products. And increasingly more often, shark is mislabeled as other, more appealing fish.

Unfortunately, the burden is on the consumer to educate themselves about products that contain shark and perform the necessary detective work to ensure they are not contributing to the sharks’ demise. To help, here is an ever-evolving list of common uses for shark products.

Shark Products at a Glance

We don’t think you want to be contributing to the demise of one of the oldest, most important predators the planet has, without knowing it! The uses for shark are vast, as are the places shark products can be found.

The following products could contain shark:

Shark liver oil (Squalene or Squalane):
Squalene/squalane is an oil that is derived from the shark’s liver and is used in cosmetic products ranging from anti-aging creams, lotions, deodorants, hair conditioners, eye shadows, lipstick, lip balms, sunscreen, and cleansers. It is also used in vaccines and sold in the form of pills and supplements as it is believed to have medicinal value, and is prevalent in many medicinal creams. Finally, squalene has some limited industrial uses as well, serving as a basis for lubricants and cleaning agents.

We’ll be covering this topic in depth in our next article.

Shark cartilage pills / powders:
Shark cartilage is a very popular dietary supplement and alternative medicine believed to provide benefits to people suffering from a range of ailments from arthritis, asthma, eczema, shingles, rheumatism, hemorrhoids, psoriasis, though one of its best-known uses is as an alternative cure to cancer. It is commonly sold worldwide, despite the lack of clinical evidence that commercial supplements have any beneficial effect. Given the unsubstantiated claims in reference to cancer, it is growing in popularity and availability.

Sold around the world in the form of pills or powders at health food stores, drugstores and anywhere else dietary supplements are sold, these pills are also manufactured worldwide as well. Look for shark cartilage or chondroitin (derived from shark cartilage) on the list of ingredients.

Shark, skate & ray meat:
Shark and ray meat is consumed all over the world; however, it is not nearly as popular as other fish species, probably due to processing requirements. Until recently, shark meat was considered of lesser quality and was not heavily featured on menus and store shelves.

However, popularity for shark meat in the western world has risen, and it is quite common in the U.S. to find thresher or mako at your local grocery store chain or on a restaurant menu.

One quite underhanded technique restaurants and stores often employ is masking the use of shark by changing the name. Take for instance, the poor, little spiny dogfish shark. Who would eat this shark? Maybe you or someone you know. How is that possible? Because these sharks have been relabeled to a more, well, appealing term: rock salmon.  And are commonly used as fish and chips. Spiny dogfish shark is known as saumonette (“little salmon”) in France, and schillerlocken (“locks of Schiller” – dried shark) and seeaal (“sea eel”) in Germany.  And, in Australia and New Zealand, whitefish fillets or flake are actually elephant or ghosts shark.

Often the fish you are eating is mislabeled as well. In fact a recent study in Canada by Oceana indicated nearly half of the fish tested was labeled incorrectly. Knowing the source of your fish – or better yet not consuming fish at all – ensures you are not contributing to the demise of sharks.

Below is a growing list of names for shark meat:

Surimi and Fish Sticks/Patties:
Shark is often used as an ingredient in composite fish products. For instance, it is widely utilized in surimi (otherwise known as artificial crab, lobster or shrimp.) Next time you order a California Sushi Roll, think twice! And it is known to find its way into generic aggregate products like whitefish patties, fish sticks, and smoked fish strips. Next time you order at a fast food restaurant, we’d recommend skipping the fish. With all its uses, being an aware consumer is our best defense, as you could easily be eating shark and not realizing it.

Shark Meat for Livestock, Pets & Fertilizers:
Shark byproducts are also commonly used in fishmeal (which is used to feed pets and livestock amongst other purposes) and also fertilizers – including those you would purchase at your local garden shop.

Shark is commonly used in many pet products including dog and cat food, supplements (particularly for joint health), and even chew toys. One online retailer recently offered thresher shark “bully sticks” for sale.

Shark and ray leather (Shagreen):
Since sharkskin is exceptionally durable, it has been used to make leather for decades. However, recently, shark leather has become exceedingly popular, particularly amongst the high-fashion crowd. In fact celebrities such as Will Smith and Gordon Ramsay have been seen wearing it – and the likes of Tory Burch, Jimmy Choo, and even Nike use it for their products.  Shark and stingray leather products can commonly be found throughout the worlds and are used to manufacture luxury items like boots, shoes, handbags, wallets, belts, cell phone cases, notebooks, and even watchstraps. According to the United Nations, tiger, lemon, dusky, nurse, sandbar, porbeagle, shortfin mako, scalloped hammerhead, bull sharks, and scaly whip rays are most often used in the manufacture of these goods.

Shark teeth and jaws:
Throughout the world, shark teeth, jaws, dried sharks, and even sharks preserved in bottles can be found in trinket and souvenir shops – particularly those in near proximity to the sea. Additionally, the use of shark teeth in high fashion jewelry has also become quite prevalent. You can also find shark teeth and jaws openly on marketplaces such as eBay. Only the trade of the species listed on CITES are illegal – meaning white, whale, and basking sharks are supposedly protected. However, white shark products are still openly available in the market (and a black market industry also exists in which jaws from white sharks can sell for over $10,000 USD).

Shark Fins:
Shark fins are sold dried or in the form of prepared foods. These products are sold legally throughout the world, and can be found throughout Asia, as well as in most major cities, typically in areas called “Chinatowns”.  They can be purchased at stores, restaurants, herbalists, and also online from distributors either frozen or dried. Typically shark fins are used for soups; however, there is a plethora of other delicacies that also utilize shark fins. And, given its association with stature, more and more continue to arise – even pet food.

We think you should know when an endangered predator is turning up in something you consume – and with some pressure, we know we can force companies to disclose such information, and in many cases, make their products without sharks. That’s why we’ve started a movement called Shark Free.
Through science, grassroots tools, and education, we want to make ALL the products we buy #SHARKFREE.
#SHARKFREE is a campaign to keep sharks out of our products, so we can reduce pressure on their populations and save them from extinction.
It starts by ensuring you, and your home are #SHARKFREE.

Julie Andersen is a passionate shark advocate and diver, a decade-long Team Sharkwater member, and co-founder of United Conservationists, Fin Free, Shark Angels and Shark Savers – all non-profits dedicated to the protection of animals.

Clarke, Shelley C.; McAllister, Murdoch K.; Milner-Gulland, E. J.; Kirkwood, G. P.; Michielsens, Catherine G. J.; Agnew, David J.; Pikitch, Ellen K.; Nakano, Hideki et al. “Global estimates of shark catches using trade records from commercial markets”. Ecology Letters 9 (10): 1115–1126 (2006).

Mergler, D.; Anderson, H.A.; Chan, L.H.M.; Mahaffey, K.R.; Murray, M.; Sakamoto, M.; and Stern, A.H. Methylmercury exposure and health effects in humans: a worldwide concern. AMBIO Journal of Human Environment, 36(1): 3-11 (2007).

The International Trade of Shark Fins: Endangering Shark Populations Worldwide – Oceana CITES Report – March 2010.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “Shark utilization, marketing, and trade.” (1999). http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4795e.pdf

Sharkwater, directed by Rob Stewart. https://www.sharkwater.com/sharkwater/

Main, Douglas M. “Shark Fins Are Loaded With a Neurotoxin, Study Finds.” NYTimes.com. New York Times, March 6, 2012. http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/06/shark-fins-are-loaded-with-a-neurotoxin-study-finds/?_r=0

Woo, Joyce. “Shark tale: Hong Kong’s use of fins as a delicacy under fire.” Washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post, September 5, 2010.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/04/AR2010090400452.html

Bloom: “The hideous price of beauty” http://www.bloomassociation.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/ENG_Squalene_4-pager.pdf

American Cancer Society. “Shark Liver Oil.” November 1, 2008. “Shark Cartilage.” December 7, 2012. https://www.cancer.org/healthy/eat-healthy-get-active/acs-guidelines-nutrition-physical-activity-cancer-prevention/common-questions.html

Ostrander, Gary K., Keith C. Cheng, Jeffrey C. Wolf, and Marilyn J. Wolfe. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/64/23/8485.long

Anahad O’Connor. “Shark Cartilage May Contain Toxin.”  NYTimes.com. The New York Times Company. March 8, 2012. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/08/shark-cartilage-may-contain-toxin/

Shark Meat by Any other Name: http://diveseven.com/blog/details/14/shark-meat-by-any-other-name

Uses for Shark: https://www.robstewartsharkwaterfoundation.org/articles/products-containing-sharks

Oceana: https://oceana.org/

A.M. Mart ́ın-Sa ́nchez, C. Navarro, J.A.Pe ́rez-A ́lvarez,andV.Kuri: Alternatives for Efficient and Sustainable Production of Surimi: A Review https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1541-4337.2009.00087.x

Cosmetics Database: Squalane & Squalene: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/706264/SQUALANE/