Shark Free

1. State of Sharks

Sharks ensure our very survival

The frightening reality is, like them or not, sharks play a crucial role on this planet. Remove sharks from the oceans and we are tampering with our primary food and air sources.

Sharks keep our largest and most important ecosystem healthy. Our existence, in part, is dependent upon theirs. Sharks have sat atop the oceans' food chain, keeping our seas healthy for 450 million years. They are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides 1/3 of our world with food, produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined, removes half of the atmosphere's manmade carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas), and controls our planet's temperature and weather.

For more information on Why We Need Sharks, click here.

Many shark species are almost extinct and nearly all are headed for disaster. The issues facing threatening sharks are numerous and include environmental changes, overfishing and consumer demand for their fins and other parts. For information on the Shark's Plight, click here.

2. Shark Products

There's a Shark in my soup. And my drink. And my vitamins. And my shoes…

Many people assume that because they don't eat shark fin soup – then they can't possibly be contributing to the demise of the sharks and rays. And while shark fin soup does account for a considerable amount of shark consumption, there are many other culprits. It isn't just something that can be blamed on a single culture or country.

Often, it is surprising to discover what shark is actually used in. And it isn't always the usual, easy to identify products, say with the word shark in the product name, like shark steaks, shark teeth or shark leather. Certain energy drinks, pet supplements, vitamins, lotions, dog chew toys, and even lipsticks – to name but a few – are all known to contain shark products. And often, shark is mislabeled as other, more appealing fish.

So here is an ever-growing list of uses for shark products, some obvious, some surprising.

Shark Products at a Glance

The uses for shark are vast, as are the places shark products can be found. To help, here is an ever-evolving list of common uses for shark products, some obvious, some surprising.

The following products could contain shark:

  • Shark steaks
  • Ray or skate fillets
  • Shark fin soup (or fish wing soup)
  • Imitation crab, lobster, shrimp
  • Surimi (fish paste)
  • Whitefish fillets or fingers
  • Rock Salmon
  • Saumonette
  • Schillerlocken
  • Flake
  • Dried stockfish
  • Smoked fish strips
  • Supplements containing chondroitin or squalene/squalane (shark cartilage & shark liver oil)
  • Supplements & alternative medicines containing gill rakers
  • Alternative medicines (for arthritis, asthma, eczema, shingles, rheumatism, hemorrhoids, fevers, psoriasis and cancer)
  • Energy & health drinks
  • Pet food
  • Pet supplements
  • Pet treats
  • Garden fertilizer
  • Jewelry (teeth)
  • Souvenirs (shark jaws & teeth)
  • Wallets, Purses, Shoes, Handbags (Shark & Stingray Leather)
  • Vaccines (Pandemic flu, malaria vaccines)
  • Medicinal creams (healing of wounds, skin irritations, hemorrhoids)
  • Anti-aging cream
  • Skin lotions
  • Deodorant
  • Hair dye and conditioners
  • Eye shadow
  • Lipstick
  • Lip Balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Face cleanser
  • Shagreen (sandpaper)
  • Industrial lubricants and cleansers

It is also important to note that more than ½ of the sharks caught are caught as bycatch by tuna, marlin, and other open water fishermen. Thus, truly being a friend to the sharks also means educating yourself and making the right choices when it comes to ordering fish.

As part of our campaign, we are compiling a comprehensive database of suppliers, distributors, and specific products as well. Know something with shark in it or someone selling or manufacturing shark products? Report it here.

Find out where shark products are sold.

2.1. Spread Your Wings: Stop the Sale of Shark Products

The animal we fear the most is also one we depend upon for our survival. Sharks play a crucial role on this planet. For 450 million years, they have ensured our ocean's health – enabling our very existence.

But sharks, and this planet, are quietly headed for disaster.

Up to 73,000,000 sharks will be killed this year. That's over 11,000 per hour. Few know, often blinded by misguided fears, of the shark's current struggles. Sharks are quickly headed for extinction.

Why? Primarily to feed consumer demand for their fins, but also their skin, cartilage, livers, teeth, flesh, and even jaws.

We are running out of time. But we all have the power to make a difference.

It is up to all of us, now, to save the sharks. To quickly curb the demand leading to their demise. To prevent this catastrophic extinction. To take sharks under our wings and make the world a shark friendly place.

Act now and play a very important role in changing the future for sharks.

What you can do:
Step 1: Develop your Shark IQ
Step 2: Take the pledge
Step 3: Make your world SharkFree: Stop the sale of shark products in your community using our tools.
Step 4: Put on some global pressure!
Step 5: Join Fin Free to ban the sale and trade of shark fin through legislation

2.2. Shark Cartilage Pills / Powders

Shark cartilage is a very popular dietary supplement and alternative medicine believed to provide benefits to people suffering from a range of ailments from arthritis, asthma, eczema, shingles, rheumatism, hemorrhoids, psoriasis, though one of its best-known uses is as an alternative cure to cancer. It is commonly sold worldwide, despite the lack of clinical evidence that commercial supplements have any beneficial effect. Given the unsubstantiated claims in reference to cancer, it is growing in popularity and availability.

Sold around the world in the form of pills or powders at health food stores, drugstores and anywhere else dietary supplements are sold, these pills are also manufactured worldwide as well. Look for shark cartilage or chondroitin (derived from shark cartilage) on the list of ingredients.

The market for these supplements is unsustainable and, even worse; the cartilage is typically procured from highly threatened species, like the spiny dogfish or blue shark. Continued production and sale of these supplements is certainly contributing to already stressed shark populations globally.

Sharks DO get Cancer: An urban legend debunked

In 1992, the idea that sharks could help fight cancer was popularized by William Lane's bestselling book "Shark's don't get cancer." However, studies have since proven that 1) sharks do get cancer and 2) taking shark cartilage extract has no beneficial effects upon an individual's health whatsoever.

A 2004 study found benign and malignant tumors in 21 shark species with tumors occurring in the skin, blood, nervous, digestive, excretory, reproductive, and endocrine systems, as well as the cartilage itself. Recently, a cancer biologist at John Hopkins University went on the record with the statement, "I don't think there is any benefit to buying shark cartilage and eating it [as an anti-carcinogenic] any more than I think that eating rabbit will make me run faster." An article appearing in the December 2004 issue of "Cancer Research" confirmed that shark cartilage preparations have to date shown absolutely no effect in treating cancer.

2.3. Manta Gill Rakers

Manta and mobula gill rakers, which are the rays' branchial gill plates used to filter plankton from seawater allowing the manta to eat are becoming increasingly popular in eastern alternative medicines. Found in dried and powdered form, the gill rakers are sold in traditional and holistic remedy stores.

Although no scientific evidence exists to support any claims, Chinese practitioners believe the consumption of gill rakers – called peng yu sai – help reduce toxins in the blood by purifying and cooling it, reducing body temperature and aiding blood circulation. Its surge in popularity is making dried and ground gill rakers even more valuable than shark fin. And, as shark fin becomes harder to find, rakers are even being offered as an alternative, increasing demand further.

2.4. Shark Liver Oil (Squalene or Squalane)

Squalene/squalane is an oil that is derived from the shark's liver and is used in cosmetic products ranging from anti-aging creams, lotions, deodorants, hair conditioners, eye shadows, lipstick, lip balms, sunscreen, and cleansers. It is also used in vaccines and sold in the form of pills and supplements as it is believed to have medicinal value, and is prevalent in many medicinal creams. Finally, squalene has some limited industrial uses as well, serving as a basis for lubricants and cleaning agents.

Cosmetic uses for squalene

Shark-based squalene is commonly used by many consumer product and cosmetic brands you are no doubt familiar with. This year, many have vowed to discontinue their usage of the shark-based squalene, including Ponds, Boots, Dove, Sunsilk, Vaseline, L'Oreal, Lancome, Soft & Dri, Clarins, Sisley and La Mer, which ought to give you a good understanding of how prevalent its use really is. And, there are still plenty of companies that use shark-based squalene, particularly internationally.

In order to alleviate confusion, squalene can come from both animals and plants, though the majority of the time, its origins are shark-based. Often, squalene that is not shark-based is labeled "vegetable", "vegetable based" or from "vegetable origins" due to recent pressures being placed on companies that utilize shark-based squalane or squalene. But, one cannot simply assume that if squalene is contained in a product, it is derived from shark, which is why it is important to do your homework. Most likely it is, but an enquiry to the manufacture when in doubt is your best bet. Or, visit the list of organizations known to utilize shark squalane/squalene in their products.

Shark-based squalene has a readily available substitute on the market that comes from a purely vegetable origin – olives – which is actually known to be of better quality than shark-based squalene and less expensive as well. Squalene is also found in amaranth seeds, rice bran, wheat germ, fungi, and date palm.

Medicinal uses for squalene

Not only will you find squalene in the cosmetic and lotion aisles at the pharmacy, you will also find it in the supplement and remedy aisles as well. Shark liver oil is used to promote the healing of wounds, irritations of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, and general debility – and is a common ingredient in medicinal creams like Preparation H. Given its supposed impact on white blood cells, it is also becoming increasingly popular as a booster for the immune system and even as a way of preventing cancer, sold in a pill form. And, you will also find it in your doctor's office, as it is added to improve the efficacy of several vaccines, including pandemic flu (yes, even swine flu) and malaria vaccines, by pharmaceutical giants like Novartis.

Squalene is typically derived from the liver of deep-sea sharks, since these sharks have especially large reserves of squalene, as their livers comprise one-third of their entire weight. Consequently, most deep-sea sharks are caught solely for their livers. The excessive targeting of these sharks has caused dramatic population declines of certain species like some of the gulper and dogfish sharks which live over 3000 feet below sea level, greatly impacting their future survival – all for the sake of beauty.

The difference an "a" makes

Squalene and squalane can both come from sharks. Squalane is a saturated form of squalene in which the double bonds have been eliminated by hydrogenation. Because squalane is less susceptible to oxidation, it is more commonly used in personal care products than squalene.

For more information on squalane click here.
For more information on squalene click here.

2.5. Shark and Ray Meat

Shark and ray meat is consumed all over the world; however, it is not nearly as popular as other fish species, probably due to processing requirements. Until recently, shark meat was considered of lesser quality and was not heavily featured on menus and store shelves.

However, popularity for shark meat in the western world has risen, and it is quite common in the U.S. to find thresher or mako at your local grocery store chain or on a restaurant menu. Both of these sharks are considered vulnerable or nearing extinction. In Europe, the meat of smoothhounds, catsharks, makos, porbeagle, and also skates and rays are in high demand and is sold in many major supermarkets. In Australia, several types of shark are commonly consumed, which is why Australia purchases a large majority of the threatened smoothhound. Gully and seven-gill sharks caught in South Africa. And in Iceland, greenland sharks are fished to produce hákarl or fermented shark, which is widely regarded as a national dish.

It is very common to find shark in markets or on the menus of many emerging countries in Africa and the Americas, particularly as other commercially popular fish become less available. And, shark meat, skin and organs have been very popular throughout Asia for years – in countries like Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and China. In Japan, not only is shark meat eaten, but so are shark skin and other organs; the salmon shark heart is a very popular sashimi treat.

One quite underhanded technique restaurants and stores often employ is masking the use of shark by changing the name. Take for instance, the poor, little spiny dogfish shark. Who would eat this shark? Well, if you live in the UK, maybe you or someone you know. How is that possible? Because these sharks have been re-labeled in the UK to a more, well, appealing term: rock salmon. Indeed, many of the fish & chip shops that so many Brits know and love commonly have rock salmon on the menu. Spiny dogfish shark is known as saumonette ("little salmon") in France, and schillerlocken ("locks of Schiller" – dried shark) and seeaal ("sea eel") in Germany. And, in Australia and New Zealand, whitefish fillets or flake are actually elephant or ghosts shark.

Finally, shark is often used as an ingredient in composite fish products. For instance, it is widely utilized in surimi (otherwise known as artificial crab, lobster or shrimp.) And it is known to find its way into generic aggregate products like smoked fish strips, dried stockfish, and whitefish (which is used to produce fish patties and fish sticks.) With all its uses, being an aware consumer is our best defense, as you could easily be eating shark and not realizing it.

Shark byproducts are also commonly used in fishmeal (which is used to feed livestock amongst other purposes) and also fertilizers – including those you would purchase at your local garden shop.

2.6. Shark and Ray Leather

Since sharkskin is exceptionally durable, it has been used to make leather for decades. However, recently, shark leather has become exceedingly popular, particularly amongst the high-fashion crowd. In fact celebrities such as Will Smith and Gordon Ramsay have been seen wearing it – and the likes of Tory Burch, Jimmy Choo, and even Nike use it for their products. You see, stingrays and sharks are in the same family. So buying stingray leather is indeed supporting the mass extinction of the shark and ray family worldwide.

Shark and stingray products can commonly be found in the U.S., Germany, Thailand, France, China, and Japan. They are used primarily to manufacture luxury items like boots, shoes, handbags, wallets, belts, cell phone cases, notebooks, and even watchstraps. According to the United Nations, tiger, lemon, dusky, nurse, sandbar, porbeagle, shortfin mako, scalloped hammerhead, bull sharks, and scaly whip rays are most often used in the manufacture of these goods.

Untanned skin, called Shagreen, is also used as a highly-coveted sandpaper (particularly in ornamental woodworking) and also as leather for furniture.

2.7. Shark Teeth and Jaws

Throughout the world, shark teeth, jaws, dried sharks, and even sharks preserved in bottles can be found in trinket and souvenir shops – particularly those in near proximity to the sea. Additionally, the use of shark teeth in high fashion jewelry has also become quite prevalent. You can also find shark teeth and jaws openly on marketplaces such as eBay. Only the trade of the species listed on CITES are illegal – meaning white, whale, and basking sharks are supposedly protected. However, white shark products are still openly available in the market (and a black market industry also exists in which jaws from white sharks can sell for over $10,000 USD).

Fossilized vs. new teeth

It is easy to spot a new tooth. They are white, shiny and look as if they were just pulled from a shark's mouth. Fossilized teeth tend to be grey, black, brown, or yellowed and have a significantly aged appearance. Want a shark's tooth? Then buy a fossilized tooth. This is the only way you can ensure a shark wasn't killed specifically for your trinket.

Pet products

Shark is commonly used in many pet products including supplements (particularly for joint health), dog and cat food, and even chew toys. One online retailer recently offered thresher shark "bully sticks" for sale.

Health foods & energy drinks

In addition to the inclusion of shark cartilage in pills, energy, and health drinks can contain chondroitin as well – particularly in Japan. World-renowned Suntory has two such products on the market currently.

2.8. Where to Find Shark Products

Type of Business Look For In
Asian Restaurant Shark Fin
Shark Meat
Shark Skin
Shark Organs
All Dishes
Imitation Crab, Shrimp
Fish & Chips Shop Shark Meat Rock Salmon
Whitefish fillets or fingers
Dried stockfish
Smoked fish strips
Japanese Restaurant Shark Organs
Shark Meat
Sushi (Salmon Shark Heart)
Other Dishes
Imitation Crab
Shrimp Surimi
Seafood Restaurant Shark Steaks (Mako, Thresher)
Main Dishes
Clothing & Jewelry Stores Shark Teeth
Shark Leather
Jewelry, Purses, Wallets, Leather Cuffs, Watchbands, Shoes
Hobby/Craft Store Shark Skin
Shark Teeth
Shagreen (Sand Paper)
Teeth for Crafts
Industrial Lubricants
Souvenir Shop Shark Jaws
Shark Teeth
Full Sharks
Trinkets Dried Sharks Sharks in Jars
Doctor's Office Shark Liver Oil Vaccines (Pandemic flu, malaria vaccines)
Pharmacy Shark Cartilage
Shark Liver Oil
Shark Cartilage
Shark Liver Oil
Supplements containing chondroitin
Supplements containing squalene/squalane
Supplements & alternative medicines containing gill rakers
Medicinal creams (healing of wounds, skin irritations, hemorrhoids)
Cosmetics Store/Beauty Salon Shark Liver Oil Anti-aging cream
Skin lotions
Hair dye and conditioners
Eye shadow
Lip Balm
Face cleanser
Grocery Store Frozen or Fresh Shark Meat
Shark Liver Oil
Shark Cartilage
Dried Shark Fin
Frozen or Fresh Shark
Ray and Skate Fillets
Whitefish fillets or fingers
Pet Shop Shark Meat
Shark Liver Oil
Shark Cartilage
Pet food
Pet supplements
Pet treats
Health Food Store Ray Gills
Shark Liver Oil
Shark Cartilage
Energy Drinks
Supplements containing chondroitin
Supplements containing squalene/squalane
Supplements & alternative medicines containing gill rakers
Medicinal creams (healing of wounds, skin irritations, hemorrhoids)
Leather Good Store Shark Leather
Ray Leather
Purses / Bags
Watch Bands
Online Marketplace (Like E-bay or GumTree) Shark Teeth
Shark Jaws
Shark Fins
Shark Meat
Alternative Medicine Store Ray Gills
Shark Liver Oil
Shark Fins
Shark Cartilage
Alternative medicines (for arthritis, asthma, eczema, shingles, rheumatism, hemorrhoids, fevers, psoriasis and cancer)

Of course, this is not an inclusive list. Instead it is meant to serve as a foundation.

2.9. The Ethics of Shark Products

When it comes to the sale of shark products, often the question isn't solely about legalities ("Am I breaking a law by selling this product?"), it is about ethics. Increasingly, many businesses are instituting and adhering to their own set of internal ethics due to consumer pressure–asking themselves, "Is it ethical to produce or sell this product?" Most of the time, these ethics deal with customer safety, the product's environmental footprint, and also how materials were obtained.

And that's where our battle begins. Because shark products typically don't meet basic ethical standards in any of those areas.

Is it ethical to sell products that contain endangered animals?

The sale of shark products is incredibly damaging to threatened or endangered shark species. With shark populations plummeting worldwide, it isn't hard to question the ethics of someone selling shark products – whether they are selling shark fin soup or manufacturing pet food with shark in it. Most of the species that are utilized commonly in shark products are considered endangered, vulnerable, or near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Also, shark products are not consistently labeled by species and may even be intentionally mislabeled, so it is very difficult to prove origination. Many will claim their products are made from non-endangered species, knowing that it is next to impossible to validate this claim.

However, a scientific study published in 2009 proved 21% of hammerhead fins sampled from 11 Hong Kong markets were taken from sharks living in the western Atlantic Ocean, where the species is listed as endangered. By using the DNA signatures of the scalloped hammerhead shark, scientists were able to trace the geographic origin of most of the fins sampled in the markets.

Is it ethical to sell products that may poison customers?

It is also easy to question a company's commitment to its customers' health. The consumption of shark products can be dangerous and carry warnings from several worldwide entities – including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For instance, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identifies sharks as the #1 fish to avoid for having the very highest levels of dangerous methyl-mercury. The FDA also warns against consuming sharks, especially for women of childbearing years and young children.

Is it ethical to sell products that were obtained illegally and are fueling a dangerous black market trade?

Shark fishing is illegal in many places throughout the world. A large amount of documentation exists that proves illegal shark fishing is outrageously prevalent. For instance, research indicates that the fins of up to 73 million sharks move through the shark fin market of Hong Kong each year, whereas countries trading in fins report to the UN only a fraction of that. The high sales value placed on shark fin, mostly destined for Asia, drive fishermen throughout the world to harvest sharks at a wildly unsustainable rate, without regard to laws. And the demand for shark products is feeding a black market trade often compared to the illegal drug and weapons trades. Run by a mafia, the trade is rife with murder, illegal smuggling, and incredible profits for a few dangerous criminals.

Is it ethical to sell products that have been obtained from animals in painful and cruel ways?

Shark finning is an incredibly brutal and callous act – one that is often inflicted upon live animals. Sharks are dragged onto boats, clubbed in order to stun them, and then, their fins are cut off with a hot blade. These sharks are thrown back into the ocean to die slowly and painfully, either bleeding to death, suffocating or being eaten alive.

Is it ethical to sell products that are directly leading to the destruction of our most important ecosystem?

The demand for shark products, particularly shark fin, is quickly depleting the oceans of the last remaining sharks. Many species' numbers have declined by over 90% and there is evidence that certain species are regionally extinct. We need sharks on this planet. As apex predators, they play a critical role in keeping our oceans healthy. Oceans provide this planet with more than half of our oxygen, are our best defense against global warming since they remove over half of the carbon dioxide and control the weather as well as the temperature of the planet.

3. Become a Shark Detective

Sadly, it is quite easy to find shark products – particularly once you are well informed on the issue. But, we need your help, as this is a big task in terms of scale. The best way to help is to become a shark detective – either online or in-person – and find, then report, businesses who are selling, trading, or manufacturing shark and ray products.

It is easy to do your part. Here are a few tips and guidelines to approaching this task:

Step 1: Acquaint yourself with the uses for shark and ray products.

Step 2: Know where to look. Identify the types of places where you might find shark or ray products.

Step 3: Check our growing list of establishments that sell or produce shark products to see who is already on it.

Step 4: Investigate businesses to determine if they are selling shark products. This can be done online in some cases, or in-person. Now that you know how to commonly find shark products, keep your eyes peeled when you visit your local establishments. And, get creative! For instance, by using Google Maps, you can locate all of the restaurants near you that have publicized that Shark Fin Soup is on their menus.

It is always important to ask questions. It isn't always easy to determine if shark is utilized in a product, so know your facts and obtain as much information as you can. And don't just stop with the first store clerk or waiter – who may not be informed, or may quickly answer your question without complete information. Explain calmly and reasonably that determining this information is important to you. Be respectful and inquisitive, rather than condemning.

And, when in doubt, obtain the manufacturer's name and send a simple letter or email of inquiry.

Know that often, questions are necessary. Many restaurants don't include Shark Fin Soup on their menu – though it can be available on special request or by pre-ordering it.

Step 5: Gather the establishment's full details and submit the information to us. You will need their name, address, and some product details. To view a complete list of information required, view the submission form.

Step 6: Ask the business to take action and stop selling shark products.

4. Get Local – Make Your Community Safe for Sharks. Take Sharks Under Your Wings!

Stop the sale of shark products in your own community.

Restaurants that serve shark fin soup, health food stores that sell shark cartilage pills, markets that offer shark and ray fillets, and luxury cosmetic manufacturers that utilize shark liver oil in their products all assume they are meeting the desires of their customers.

They likely do not know that consuming shark is unhealthy for us – and our planet – or that sharks, the animals that keep our critical oceans in balance, are in serious trouble as a result of growing consumer demand.

You can change this! And we are making it easy to do.

  • Increase your Shark IQ. First, educate yourself on the issues. You can also download our Take Action for Sharks wallet card.
  • Act locally. Look for restaurants and other businesses in your community that serve/sell shark.
  • Equip yourself. Order (or download and print) our Take Action cards and Become Aware brochures.
  • Educate and inform. Visit the business and ask to speak with the owner or manager to respectfully discuss the issue. Assume they are unaware and reasonably explain the state of sharks – and the consequences extinction pose to all of us.
  • Make the ask. Do your best and ask them to stop selling shark products. You may not succeed the first time out, but you will have begun an important process. Give them a Take Action card and Become Aware brochure.
  • Stay positive. Be sure to keep the discussion constructive and focused on the end result – inspiring the business to become Shark Friendly. Be reasonable and respectful, while also convincing and passionate. Use our guiding principles as a foundation for your approach.
  • Also be sure to let them know how positive the impact of their decision will be not just for the planet, but for their business.
  • Think globally. If the business is part of a larger chain or network, ask the manager for a contact name, title, and email address of the right person at corporate headquarters (usually someone responsible for products, marketing, or even leadership) so you can also send the right individual an email using one of our templates.
  • Get some help. See if you can enlist others to a join you on these efforts. Ask them to do the same. So others can help, be sure to add the business to our list of organizations that sell shark.
  • Persevere. Visit the same business again in a month or two for another try and continue to do this until the shop or restaurant makes the right decision.
  • Say Thanks. When the restaurant or store stops serving/selling shark products, download a Thank You card and print it out. Present it to the owner with your gratitude.) And, email us their information so we can thank them as well and provide them with access to certification emblems and other materials.