Race to find a Covid-19 vaccine could kill half a million sharks, experts warn

Using a chemical found in sharks’ livers to create a coronavirus vaccine will not only kill over half a million sharks, warns a conservation group, it could also cause a future ecological catastrophe.

Squalene, a compound that naturally occurs in sharks’ livers, is used in the manufacture of many cosmetics and vaccines.

With nearly 200 coronavirus vaccines currently being developed – most of them using squalene as a component – its almost inevitable that more sharks will be killed so that their livers can be harvested, says conservation charity Shark Allies.

Already, an estimated 2.7 million sharks are killed every year for squalene to make moisturisers and other cosmetics, according to the group.

"The problem is that squalene, used as an ingredient in a Covid-19 vaccine, will be seen as something that's unavoidable, and then as it becomes tested, it becomes the normal ingredient, and nothing else will be tested," Shark Allies executive director Stefanie Brendl told US radio station NPR.

She also points out that the slaughter of many more sharks will inevitably have an impact on the delicate balance of the oceans’ food chains: “[Sharks] keep our fish stock healthy, they keep the food chain intact, they keep diseases out of other animal populations

"Good luck trying to replace that when we lose them,” she added.

Shark Allies is trying to promote the use of alternative sources of squalene, such as olive oil, sugar cane, wheat germ, bacteria and yeast.

"Our [request] is that we start testing the alternatives, because long term, we cannot rely on a wild animal resource for a global need of anything," Brendl said.

But so far, chemical companies have favoured squalene because it’s cheaper to extract from sharks’ livers than vegetable sources.

Shark Allies believes around 250,000 sharks will need to be slaughtered to provide one dose of Coronavirus vaccine for each person who needs one.

If, as is currently believed, people need two shots of the vaccine to get total cover, that number would double, resulting in 500,000 sharks being killed – an absolute catastrophe for ecosystems worldwide.

The group has set up a Change.org petition named 'Stop Using Sharks in COVID-19 Vaccine – Use EXISTING Sustainable Options', which currently has around 80,000 signatures.

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