In a bit of good news for sharks, Unilever, a global cosmetics company that makes Dove and Pond’s brands, will stop using shark liver oil, or squalene, in the making of its cosmetics. Squalene-free products that use a plant-based substitute could be on the shelves as soon as spring of 2008. The announcement heralded marine conservation group Oceana’s efforts to build awareness among cosmetics manufacturers and end the use of squalene.
“Many of the world’s shark populations are collapsing, and the use of shark products for commercial purposes is the greatest threat to their survival,” said Elizabeth Griffin, marine wildlife scientist at Oceana.
Globally, at least 16 of the 300-plus shark species are listed as threatened, endangered or vulnerable. Sharks are especially vulnerable to fishing pressures. They are slow to mature, some, like lemon sharks, do not reach sexual maturity until they are thirteen or later. Gestation for one species, the spiny dogfish, is nearly two years — thought to be the longest for any vertebrate. Many species only give birth to a few young at a time, and do not breed annually. This type of reproductive pattern makes it nearly impossible for shark species to recover from commercial fishing pressures.
Sharks serve a valuable role in the ocean as an apex predator, removing the weaker and sick individuals from fish populations. They are the great enforcers of the ocean’s “survival of the fittest.”
Efforts like those of Oceana are critical to help reduce fishing pressures on sharks. Consumers, too, play an important role in the choices we make. According to information the European headquarters of these companies provided to Oceana, cosmetic brands Beiersdorf, LVMH, Henkel, Boots, Clarins, Sisley and La Mer (an Estée Lauder brand) have either made the decision to stop using shark-based squalene or had a policy to never use it in the first place. And L’Oreal is currently completing the phase-out of shark-based squalene and its substitution.