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The Fish Oil Craze Is Wiping Out Whale Sharks

If you have fish oil in your home, or use expensive cosmetics, then congratulations — you’re the cause of mass whale shark genocide.

OK, so the consumers aren’t at fault here, but it’s clear that the fish oil trend is partially responsible for the looming extinction of the world’s rarest shark. One factory alone in China kills upwards of 600 per year, and pays $31,000 for each shark.

Though the oil is taken from the livers of whale, blue, and basking sharks, it is the whale shark whose existence is threatened by this fad. In China, these three species of shark are illegal to process, so factories record their oil as coming from tilapia.

In 2009, the price for fish oil was sitting at $620/ton. In 2013, the price was doubled to $2,100/ton, setting off the overfishing of whale sharks and the dangerous spiral towards extinction.

It’s worth noting that not all fish oil comes from whale sharks, and that this particular factory makes up a small percentage of fish oil processing. Still, whale sharks are hunted for the oil in their livers, and their fins for use in shark fin soup (called “shark lips”).

There are laws against fishing whale sharks, but it is the enforcement, or lack thereof, that is lending itself towards the mass extinction. In Canada, laws regarding the import of fish oil are very strict when compared to those of the United States, however, the industry itself is very self-regulated.

If we’re to have any sort of success in curbing this trend, the public must be made aware of the behind-the-scenes processing that goes into manufacturing their beloved health supplements.

In 2013, consumers in the U.S. purchased $1.2 billion worth of fish oil. Many in the food industry are calling for stricter labeling on fish oil made from whale shark oil, as well as meat from whale, blue, and basking sharks.

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