Stop them killing sharks for vaccines!

Post from National Geographic by JUSTIN MENEGUZZI

Trawling for prey at more than a thousand feet under the surface, scalloped hammerhead sharks rely on a special oil in their livers to survive the crushing pressures of the deep.

Shark liver oil, or squalene, is a fatty substance that provides vital buoyancy for this critically endangered species and many others. But it’s also used by humans as a boosting agent in vaccines, called an adjuvant, that improves the immune system and makes vaccines more effective.

As the world’s pharmaceutical companies scramble to create a vaccine for COVID-19, at least five of the 202 vaccine candidates rely on squalene sourced from wild-caught sharks.

One candidate is a vaccine developed in Australia by University of Queensland, in partnership with the Australian biopharmaceutical company CSL and its subsidiary Seqirus. The as yet unnamed vaccine contains the squalene adjuvant MF59, which is sourced from a variety of shark species. It entered human clinical trials earlier this year and, if successful, will result in an initial production of 51 million doses.

Tens of millions of sharks are caught and traded internationally each year—both legally and illegally—the majority for their meat and fins but roughly three million or more for their squalene. It takes the livers of between 2,500 and 3,000 sharks to extract about a ton of squalene.

Conservationists fear that increased demand for squalene for vaccines, among other uses, could further imperil shark species, a third of which are vulnerable to extinction.

“This is an unsustainable demand to place on a finite natural resource like sharks,” says Stefanie Brendl, founder and executive director of Shark Allies, a California-based conservation non-profit.

Only about one percent of squalene ends up in vaccines, and most goes into cosmetics such as sunscreen, skin creams, and moisturisers. Even so, as the global population booms, the need for vaccines will only increase in coming years, Brendl notes, adding that some medical experts suggest that people will require multiple doses of vaccines against COVID-19.

“We’re not saying that vaccine trials should stop, but if we keep viewing sharks as an easy solution and don’t consider the alternatives that exist, then we’ll just continue to use [squalene] as a template for vaccines,” Brendl says.

In light of declining shark populations, some biotech companies are looking for other sources of squalene. Plants such as sugarcane, olives, amaranth seeds, and rice bran, for instance, all contain the substance. While plant-based alternatives are being tested in studies and clinical trials, regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have yet to approve them as part of a final vaccine product.

Brendl says the onus is on pharmaceutical companies to begin developing viable alternatives to shark squalene to present to regulators. She points out that Novavax, an American vaccine-development company, is already using an alternative squalene adjuvant, Matrix-M, in clinical trials for its experimental COVID-19 vaccine. Matrix-M is made from the bark of the soapbark tree, which is abundant in Chile.

Though the company has deemed the soapbark adjuvant as safe, it has not yet been evaluated as part of a final product submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

However, the Infectious Disease Research Institute found that pharmaceutical-grade squalene produced by the American biotechnology company Amyris met, and in some cases exceeded, the safety and purity profiles of shark-based squalene, according to Chris Paddon, Amyris’s lead scientist.

Amyris is banking on sugarcane as a solution to shark-based squalene, he says. In southeastern Brazil, the company is growing thousands of acres of the bamboo-like sugarcane to be processed into squalene. Just 24 acres of sugarcane could, in theory, produce enough squalene to support one billion COVID-19 vaccines.

Because growers can control the way sugarcane is grown and harvested, it’s possible to ensure the quality of the squalene, Paddon says. “When you use animal products, there are impurities that come with them because of the environment they’re raised in and the places where they’re processed.” Furthermore, Paddon says, growing sugarcane is also cheaper than catching sharks and removing their livers.

Sign this Shark Allies petition demanding that the US/FDA (Food and Drug Administration of the United States of America), the UK/MHRA (The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency of the United Kingdom), the EU/EMA (The European Medicines Agency), the National Medical Products Administration of China, and all vaccine producing companies use non-animal squalene in all vaccines.

Thank you ❤

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animals, vegan, animal rights, animal protection, fish, sharks, oceans, covid-19, flu, flu vaccine, health,

Basking Sharks

Photo by David Mark of Pixabay

Basking Sharks are so named because they’re often seen feeding at the surface of the water where they look like they’re basking in the sun!  They are enormous and often spotted in UK waters during summer months.
APPEARANCE:
Apart from their large size, Basking Sharks have:

  • a very large mouth – this can be well over 1m wide!
  • 5 huge gills which almost encircle the head
  • and a powerful crescent-shaped tail

COLOUR:
They tend to be greyish-brown with a lighter underbelly. Often they have irregular patches, patterns and streaks on their flanks and fins. Using photo-ID we can use these distinct markings to identify individual Basking Sharks.

SIZE:
The largest reported Basking Shark was 12m long. But most don’t get bigger than 9.8m.

WEIGHT:
The average Basking Shark weighs 4.5 tonnes. Yet, they can weigh up to 7 tonnes!

DIET:
Basking Sharks eat zooplankton. This includes small copepods, barnacles, decapod larvae, fish eggs and shrimp.  They’re one of 3 filter-feeding sharks but are the only species that feeds entirely passively. They swim through the water with their mouth wide open, rather than actively sucking water in. Only closing their mouths to swallow their food. Long comb-like structures on their gills (known as gill-rakers) trap and filter zooplankton. These can strain up to 2000 tonnes of water per hour!

REPRODUCTION:
It’s thought that Basking Sharks live for at least 50 years. Males reach maturity at 12–16 years. And females at 20 years (around 4.6-6.1m in length).
Females produce eggs, which develop and hatch inside their body. They then give birth to fully developed young, which are around 1–1.7m long. This makes Basking Shark pups larger at birth than many species of shark are fully grown!

There’s little data on Basking Shark reproduction. But pregnancy is thought to last around 14 months. There’s only ever been one reported catch of a pregnant female (1943), who was carrying 6 pups. This suggests that Basking Sharks give birth in areas of low, or no fishing pressure.

BEHAVIOUR:
Basking Sharks are quite social. They can be seen on their own, in small groups, or, schools of hundreds. There are many reports of same size and sex groups. Suggesting a strong sexual and age segregation within the species.

Despite their size, Basking Sharks are capable of leaping clear out of the water. A behaviour known as breaching. They seem to breach most when in large groups and during courtship, so this may act as a social or sexual function. It could also help to dislodge external parasites.
Info from sharktrust.org/about-basking-sharks

Basking Sharks are long lived, slow growing and produce few young. This makes them extremely vulnerable to human impacts.  Although Basking Sharks are now one of the most heavily protected sharks in UK and EU waters, they continue to face threats from human activities:

ENTANGLEMENT
Basking Sharks easily become entangled in fishing nets and ropes. Unless fishermen are on hand to quickly release them, they often die. Although some do manage to disentangle themselves. You can sometimes see scarring and abrasions caused by nets on their dorsal fin.

BOAT-STRIKE
Propeller and boat strikes remain a serious danger for Basking Sharks. Particularly in summer months when they’re feeding at the surface. Basking Sharks rarely evade approaching boats. So it’s common for them to have scarring and sometimes horrific injuries from collisions.

HARASSMENT
Basking Sharks are very sensitive to disturbance and harassment by people. In all the excitement of seeing Basking Sharks, boats and jet-ski’s often end up striking them. As well as causing physical harm, water-users can also disrupt their natural behaviour. Such as feeding, courting and mating.

FISHERIES
Basking Shark fisheries worldwide have all but collapsed. Although in some parts of the world they continue, driven by demand for shark fins. Basking Sharks are also still caught as bycatch in nets intended for other species.

Info from sharktrust.org/basking-shark-threats

To learn how you can help basking sharks go to sharktrust.org/how-can-you-help-basking-sharks

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