About 500,000 Sharks Are at Risk of Dying in Order to Create COVID-19 Vaccine, Nonprofit Says

"Shark Allies," an organization that fights against overfishing sharks, has created a petition asking coronavirus vaccine developers to switch to more humane, non-animal alternatives.

A California-based nonprofit organization “Shark Allies” has estimated about half a million deep-sea sharks are at the risk of dying at the expense of creating a coronavirus vaccine, the main ingredient of which comes from the animal's liver, according to reports. The organization, which fights against the overfishing of sharks and rays, is warning the public and urging vaccine developers that the species will be unable to recover from the potential widespread slaughter.

“There will be people wondering why we worry about this, because humans are more important than sharks, and they are,” Shark Allies founder Stefanie Brendl told Inside Edition. “We have to remember that there will be many other vaccines and this will go on potentially for decades and it will add up.”

A shark's liver contains oil composed of an organic compound also known as squalene. Some scientists are using squalene as a primary ingredient in versions of the coronavirus vaccine, the Miami Herald reported. Squalene is commonly used in cosmetics including lip and skin creams and machine oil, and can also be found in humans and plants, according to reports. The compound has even been used in U.S. flu vaccines since 2016.

Conservationists estimate about three million sharks are slaughtered each year to extract squalene from their livers, reported said. The wildlife organization is concerned that the already shrinking shark population will be even more at risk if the vaccine gets approved. Among the most vulnerable species include the gulper shark and the basking shark, the Telegraph reported.

It takes an estimated 3,000 sharks to produce one tonne of squalene –– and "Shark Allies" estimates it would take 250,000 sharks to immunize the entire global population, the Herald reported.

With this in mind, scientists are hoping to search for a synthetic, non-animal alternative –– including fermented sugar cane, yeast, bacteria and olive oil. The organization started a petition to halt any slaughtering of sharks with the intention of manufacturing a vaccine. Plant-based squalene would only cost 30-percent more than shark squalene. it would take only 10 hours to extract compared to 70 hours if extracting from olive oil. 

"There's so many unknowns of how big and how long this pandemic might go on, and then how many versions of it we have to go through, that if we continue using sharks, the numbers of sharks taken for this product could be really high, year after year after year," Brendl told the Telegraph.

To learn more about the organization and their efforts to protect sharks visit the Shark Allies' website here.