• U.S.

Medicine: Sharks for Vitamins

2 minute read

Babies, fighter pilots, nursing mothers and hell-bending West Coast fishermen were all interested, or should have been, in the fact that there was a West Coast boom in shark-liver oil.

Shark-liver oil is the richest available source of concentrated vitamin A. * Nursing mothers need vitamin A to produce milk; babies and adolescents should have it to promote growth; pilots and plane spotters should have it to help prevent night blindness. Extra doses of vitamin A supplement the natural supplies in liver, leafy vegetables, yellow foods like butter, apricots and carrots.

Before the war, the U.S. imported much of its medical supply of vitamin A from Norway—72,000,000 lb. of cod-liver oil annually. But after the German invasion, drug companies had to scurry around for a new source. Result was a shark boom on the West Coast.

Heroes of the boom were an unassuming shark called Galeorhinus zyopterus and a San Francisco fish broker named T. J. (“Tano”) Guaragnella. Fishermen had always considered Galeorhinus a piscivorous, tackle-snarling, bait-swallowing pest whose carcass brought only $10 a ton for fertilizer, though Chinese sometimes bought his fins for soup. But shrewd Fish Buyer Guaragnella had a hunch. Seeing a huge Galeorhinus liver, he had it tested, found it was 100 times as rich in vitamin A as cod liver.

When Guaragnella began buying soup-fin shark at $40 a ton, the fishing fleet thought he was crazy. But soon the secret was out and prices zoomed to $240, $500, $1,200 and finally, last fall, to $1,500 a ton. Fishermen went shark staring mad. With their 6,000-hook trawls and quarter-mile gill nets they hauled in as much as $3,800 a week and roared around the water fronts orie-eyed with Napa Valley red.

Last week, though the first flush of the boom was over, the shark business still looked good. Galeorhinus males were selling for a handsome $1,200 a ton at the pier.

* The versatile soup-fin shark furnishes more than vitamins. Insulin can be obtained from his pancreas, and the devitaminized oil from the liver makes a superior lubricant.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com