Conservation & Research

ATLANTA (March 8, 2024) –

Could cosmetics and health supplements drive sharks to extinction? A new study in the journal Science raises alarm.

Overfishing of deepwater sharks and rays to harvest their liver oil for use in consumer health and beauty products is driving these species rapidly toward extinction, and immediate trade and fishing regulations are essential to prevent irreversible damage, according to researchers of a new study slated to publish in the journal Science on March 8. The study was led by Dr. Brittany Finucci from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in Wellington, New Zealand, and included the research of dozens of scientific partners globally, including Georgia Aquarium.

Squalene, an organic compound derived from shark liver oil, has become a popular ingredient in skincare products, supplements, and vaccine compounds. It’s especially buzzy with skincare enthusiasts ranging from tweens to those seeking anti-aging solutions for its moisturizing, antioxidant, and immune-boosting properties. Consumer demand is driving overfishing of these species to dangerous levels, and their numbers are in steep decline, the researchers suggest.

“One-third of the endangered species in this group are specifically hunted, and half of those targeted for liver oil are at risk of extinction.”
- said Katelyn Herman, a co-author of the paper and the Manager of Conservation Programs at Georgia Aquarium.
“On top of that, deepwater sharks and rays grow and reproduce very slowly and tend to have long lifespans. For example, on average, maximum population growth rates are half that of coastal sharks,” she noted. “This means steep population declines cannot be easily reversed.”

Despite the existence of plant-based and synthetic alternatives, shark-derived squalene remains in high demand. However, using shark liver oil for medical purposes is controversial not only due to conservation concerns but also due to potential health risks to people since deepwater sharks accumulate heavy metals and other contaminants in their bodies, which can reach unsafe levels.

The study calculated threats to these deepwater predators by comparing them to other exploited marine vertebrae to gauge how they’re affected by environmental changes and threats. It also looked at how the numbers of these sharks and rays have been changing, using assessments on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species Categories and Criteria. The authors then identified the conservation benefits of stricter trade regulations and limitations on fishing activities.

Because fisheries are extracting resources that are not renewable, their business is not sustainable, the study noted. “To prevent the loss of these species and to help their numbers recover, there is an urgent need for stricter trade and fishing regulations,” Herman said. “Enforcing depth and spatial limits to fishing alongside catch regulations and trade rules is imperative to preventing irreversible loss and promoting recovery.”



Georgia Aquarium is a leading 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Atlanta, Ga. that is Humane Certified by American Humane and accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Georgia Aquarium is committed to working on behalf of all marine life through education, preservation, exceptional animal care, and research across the globe. Georgia Aquarium continues its mission each day to inspire, educate, and entertain its millions of guests about the aquatic biodiversity throughout the world through its engaging exhibits and tens of thousands of animals across its eight major galleries.

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