At the Vegan Expo in Sydney earlier this year I was approached by one of the Sea Shepherd Crew asking me if I knew whether or not the cosmetic industry was still using whale oil – albeit illegally.  My immediate reply was no, the industry replaced whale oil with jojoba some time ago.  But then I got to thinking maybe I should look into this, afterall the Sea Shepherd crew are amazing and I didn’t really know for sure if whale oil was being hidden somehow in cosmetics, so I started to hunt for the truth.

It took a while but I found a report by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) released in May 2010.

You can access the report via this link: Reinventing the Whale pdf

Highlights are:

Although the international community eventually acknowledged the devastation that whaling had wrought on whales, and banned  commercial whaling and international trade in the 1980s, the oil rush never ended.  While the majority of commercial whaling nations abided by the 1982 whaling moratorium, Norway, Japan and Iceland used loopholes to continue hunting, seemingly just for meat. In fact, the whaling nations were quietly using the cover of their ongoing hunts to research and develop new uses for whale oil and other products to “reinvent” the whale for new markets.

Norway is leading the venture. Over the last two decades  its declining whaling industry has benefited from both government and corporate investment into research, even clinical trials, of whale oil for pharmaceutical and health supplement (‘nutraceutical’) applications, as well as for animal feed. Norway’s simple strategy is to overcome international aversion to killing and consuming whales by proving the efficacy of whale oil in treating some of the worst and most common human diseases and by creating desirable health products. Meanwhile, with ample raw materials from its scientific whaling programmes, Japan has continued to mine whales for cartilage to produce chondroitin (used to treat osteoarthritis) and oligosaccharides (a common food additive).

This report highlights the strategy – to distract us all from the basic principle that we need to stop killing whales  the industry aims  to make whale oil considered a “magical cure” for common illnesses.  Why?  Because  if faced with a choice of an instant pain “cure” they reckon most people  would put their own interests ahead of the whale’s lives .

And guess what?  The Sea Shepherd Crew member was correct, they are still using whale oil in cosmetics!  Read on:

Chondroitin sulfate is an important structural component of cartilage and a widely used dietary supplement for treatment of joint pain. Chondroitin 4 sulfate (otherwise known as chondroitin sulfate A or S-4 sulfate) is extracted from whale cartilage in Japan where it has been developed for medical use. It is also used as a humectant (for moisturizing effect) in cosmetics and eye lotions and as a gelling agent in food.

Research into medical uses of whale cartilage is a focus of Seikagaku Corporation, an R&D oriented pharmaceutical company whose wholly owned subsidiary, the Seikagaku Biobusiness Corporation, supplies raw materials, including chondroitin sulfate, for pharmaceutical products and cosmetics. Seikagaku Biobusiness Corporation advertises “Chondroitin Sulfate A, Na Salt Special Grade (Whale Cartilage)” on its website for in vitro use at US$ 130 for 20mg.  Seikagaku and its subsidiary hold numerous patents for pharmaceutical products, in particular “Hyaluronan”, a type of glycosaminiglycan, that “is primarily used as a raw material of opthamological medicines (eye medicines), cosmetics and health foods”.   Seikagaku’s English website lists numerous sources of Hyaluronan, among them “cockscombs, shark skin and whale cartilage”

In the 1980s, the cosmetics industry began using alternatives to spermaceti, most notably jojoba oil, also not technically an oil, but a liquid wax that is very similar in structure to spermaceti. Jojoba oil is pressed from the seeds of the desert shrub jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis). Today, over 5,000 tonnes of jojoba oil are used annually in personal care products.

WDCS is concerned that, despite the use of jojoba and synthetic substitutes, unscrupulous or unwitting manufacturers of topical preparations may still be using spermaceti as an ingredient, whether sourced from ongoing hunts in Japan and Indonesia, stockpiles or extracted from whale oil. Using simple internet searches, WDCS identified more than 20 cosmetic or personal care products manufactured in China, Iran, the Russian Federation, Romania and the Dominican Republic that claim to contain spermaceti. Several are available in the USA and European Union although their import would violate CITES.

In addition, hundreds of patents have been approved in the USA, Europe and Asia for a wide range of makeup, cleansing, moisturizing and rejuvenating products, as well as hair dyes and fragrance enhancers, that include whale oil (including specifically sperm whale oil) or whale waxes as a possible ingredient.”

So did you take note of  the names for whale oil or whale derived ingredients as used in cosmetics today?

(1) Chondroitin sulfate  (otherwise known as chondroitin sulfate A or S-4 sulfate)

(2) Hyaluronan (also called hyaluronic acid or hyaluronate)

(3) Spermaceti

Its important to state that there are non-whale derived sources of hyaluronan and chondroitin but if you are vegetarian or vegan you should be careful as these ingredients are generally derived from animals, though there are some synthetic sources which use bacteria fermentation.   At the very least if you see these ingredients listed on your health or cosmetic product check with the manufacturers what the source of the ingredients is and if the country of origin is Iceland, Norway or Japan  please be extra careful.

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