Endangered deepwater sharks, like the gulper shark, are being systematically targeted due to the rich store of squalene in their livers. This substance is being used to make an adjuvant, a compound that boosts the body's immune response, in millions of doses of the pandemic H1N1/09 swine flu vaccine.
The World Health Organization recommends adjuvant-based vaccines, because they allow drug makers to create doses that use less of the active component, increasing available supplies. Although vaccines containing squalene have not yet been approved for use in the U.S., they are being distributed elsewhere in 26 countries so far, including Europe and Canada.
A major swine-flu vaccine producer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), announced in October that it had orders for 440 million doses of vaccine containing adjuvant derived from shark-liver squalene.
Mary O'Malley, co-founder of the volunteer-run advocacy group Shark Safe Network, estimates that GSK's 440 million doses would require at least 9,700 pounds (4,400 kilograms) of shark oil, based on the stated squalene content of 10.69 milligrams in a dose. This estimate, however, assumes zero waste and no refining of the squalene once it's been extracted from the sharks.