Esqualine, the Wonder Drug / Dolphins Rescue Fishermen


Esqualine or squaline is revered by the Japanese as a medicine with magical healing powers, capable of curing all kinds of diseases from heart ailment to arthritis, you name it. Esqualine oil is extracted from the liver of a rare deep-sea mini-shark, one or so meters in length, found in the strait between Limasawa Island and Southern Leyte in the Philippines. As a young journalist 30-odd years ago, I stumbled on this story.

A Japanese marine biologist, who knew from research the exact location of the rare shark, hired a fisherman in Southern Leyte to fish for the shark, who mastered the extremely difficult art of catching the shark, which took 12 to 15 hours. The fisherman had to drop a long line, with a complex set of 5 to 7 hooks, which took more than two hours to reach the bottom of the sea. It took another few hours for the shark to take the bait. And it took about three hours to haul the shark up. Sometimes, he went home empty handed.

The Japanese took only the liver and put it on ice. The rest of the shark, whose fins were dried and fried crunchy for a sumptuous breakfast, belonged to the fisherman. He was paid 30,000 pesos (about 120,000 pesos today) for a measly half a kilo or so of fresh liver. The extraction of the esqualine oil was done by a sophisticated laboratory in Tokyo. The Japanese came regularly and organized a team of five fishermen to hunt for the rare mini-shark.

The enterprising mayor of the town started producing esqualine capsules on his own using a low-tech technique of sun-drying or oven. He was successful in exporting them to Tokyo for a while. But he could not remove the fish smell in the capsules, which were finally refused by buyers.


The strait where the rare shark was found was notorious for strong currents, squalls and sunken vessels. Dolphins are regularly sighted by fishermen. There were stories of how dolphins rescued fishermen, pulling them to shore. I was skeptical, so I interviewed many fisherfolk at the beach. I found an elderly fisherman who claimed he witnessed the rescue at the beach. There were other fishermen who had the same claims. So, it must be a true story, not a myth. Dolphins are extremely intelligent and they have not only the brains but also the ‘heart’ to dialogue with humans in distress.

eastwind journals, May 10, 2022 (archives fbs2)

By Bernie V. Lopez,

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