Even before Jaws, people were fascinated with sharks. But they are much more than the menacing villains they portray in movies. Their beauty is impossible to ignore. There’s a whole week of TV dedicated to sharks, because it’s so easy to celebrate these animals. Sharks are at the top of their food chain, so it’s hard to imagine these beautiful beasts could ever be in danger. But there’s an even more powerful hunter prowling the oceans and putting these animals at risk: humans. Every year, millions of sharks die for common makeup products.
The secret life of shark oil
Human skin naturally produces squalene, a hydrating oil. Many cosmetics companies add squalene to their products to supplement the natural squalene your skin produces. It’s a common ingredient in lipstick, sunscreen, eye shadow, lotion and foundation. Squalene is a popular addition to anti-aging creams. You can even find it in hair products.
There are many sources of squalene in plants. You can find it in yeasts, wheat germ, olives, sugarcane and rice bran. However, plant-based squalene is 30% more expensive to make than squalene found in animals. The cheapest source of animal-based squalene is found in sharks. Around 2.7 million sharks are killed annually for cosmetic industry products. That’s an even bigger problem as the number of sharks in the oceans is dwindling.
Sharks actually predate the dinosaurs — by more than 200 million years. They’ve survived major climate changes, possibly one catastrophic meteor impact and more than one massive extinction event. But now, shark populations are declining at alarming rates around the world. Almost one-quarter of all shark species are officially threatened with extinction.
Compared to other marine animals, sharks produce very few offspring. This makes them even more vulnerable to human threats. In addition to being hunted by cosmetic companies, sharks are hunted by commercial fishers who hope to cash in on selling shark fins. The fins are a delicacy used in soup. The WWF has flagged several shark species for concern, including the hammerhead, because their numbers are dwindling so dramatically.
The Shark Allies
One company hopes to save the sharks. Since 2007, Shark Allies has been fighting for these finned swimmers of the deep. Shark Allies was started by Stefanie Brendl. She began scuba diving at 22 and started working with sharks in Hawaii. In an interview with Inhabitat, she spoke about how she came to love sharks and why she knew she had to help them.
“I ran a shark diving operation in Hawaii for several years, photographing and diving with sharks of all shapes and sizes,” Brendl said. “Through that work, I came to realize that I had to do something to protect them, so I switched gears to focus on shark conservation.”
Brendl was traveling in Indonesia and Micronesia in the 1990s. That’s when everything changed. “We actually saw first-hand a long line fishing vessel that had pulled into the harbor with dried fins hanging off the railings. This hit me particularly hard because this is a place that is famous for shark diving and [one] that was putting great efforts into protecting their sharks. It came as such a shock to me and it inspired me to learn all I could in the years that followed.”
Shark Allies has been hard at work in the years since, sponsoring legislature aimed at protecting the oceans’ most famous predators. Shark Allies helped pass the Kristen Jacobs Ocean Conservation Act in Florida.
“This bill bans the import, export and trade of shark fins in Florida, which is currently the biggest hub of the shark fin trade in the U.S. The bill unanimously passed both the House and Senate,” Brendl explained.
Shark Allies is also part of the EU Citizens Initiative, a group that is working to bring the issue of the shark fin trade to the European Commission.
How you can help
Want to become one of the Shark Allies? Brendl says everyone is welcome. “Our mission at Shark Allies is to make it possible for every person to become a warrior for sharks and get involved with shark conservation. We have an entire page that helps people to ‘Take Action Now,’ from emailing your legislatures to putting pressure on manufacturers to stop using shark products.”
Shark Allies is also working on its Shark Free Products campaign, aimed at spreading awareness about squalene in the cosmetics industry.
For the record, Brendl’s favorite species of shark is the tiger shark — but only for diving encounters. When it comes to saving the sharks of the world, she has no favorites. Brendl hopes to save them all from cosmetics companies.
PETA and many other websites offer up-to-date lists of cosmetics companies that do not test on animals, nor use animal-derived ingredients (such as squalene) to create their products. By not buying products made of shark squalene, you can send a strong message to the cosmetics companies that they need to change their production methods.
Images via Pixabay