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Seal Oil: The Other Seal Product

Seal oil capsules
Seal oil capsules

Harp seals have a thick layer of blubber underneath their skin, which protects them from the freezing temperatures of the North Atlantic (and which attaches to the skin when sealers skin the seals).

Harp seals, like all marine mammals, now have high levels of toxins in their blubber as a result of the pollution of the oceans with synthetic pesticides and industrial chemicals. The chemicals that are fat-soluble collect in the fatty tissues of small fish and crustacea and then are concentrated in the fatty tissues of the animals that eat these fish and crustacea. The higher the animal in the food chain, the greater the concentration of these poisons. Harp seals are high in the food chain and have high concentrations of poison, including mercury compounds, in their blubber.

Despite the high concentrations of toxins, the oil obtained from this blubber layer is sold in capsules as a nutrition supplement. The oil is reputed to taste bad, so that it is not sold for direct use in food (as flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, and chia seed oil are). If advanced separation processes are not implemented, or if they are insufficient, dangerous concentrations of these toxins will remain in the oil sold in these capsules.


harp seal oil capsulesA Chinese vendor (okokchina) deceives customers about the toxins in seal blubber with this misinformation:

"Seal Oil is "Bio-filtered" Fish Oil
As seals are much higher in the food chain than fish, seals use their digestive system to filter out
the many natural impurities found in fish."


NuTan Furs, formerly known as Atlantic Marine Products, was a major purveyor of harp seal oil (along with pelts), until it shut down (and was essentially 'acquired' by Carino) in 2012. This company was owned by the large seafood distributor, the Barry Group.

One company that uses harp seal oil (and in the past, purchased it from Atlantic Marine Products) is Terra Nova Fishery Products, founded by Dr. Cosmas Ho, a Newfoundland researcher and entrepreneur. If you wish to comment on his line of research, you can email him here. Another brand of seal oil capsules is Omega 3 Plus+.

Phoca Lux is a new Canadian company that is also processing seal blubber into such capsules.

You can also help the seals by alerting those who take omega-3 supplements about the origins of these products.


Smuggling of Seal Oil Capsules

Harp seal oil capsules with Chinese labelNote that it is illegal to sell these products in the United States, because all marine mammal products, including harp seal oil and pelts, are prohibited in the U.S. thanks to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

These capsules, as well as harp seal skins, are illegal in many other parts of the world as well, including the European Union, Russia, Taiwan, and Mexico.

Nevertheless, smuggling of seal oil capsules into the U.S. (and perhaps other countries with bans) is occurring. In most cases in the U.S., this contraband is found in Asian grocery stores.

If you see seal oil capsules in the United States (sometimes marketed as marine oil capsules), please take a picture of the bottle, note the name and address of the store, and contact the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement at 1-800-853-1964 or the National Marine Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement at (301) 427-2300 or contact harpseals.org. If you see smuggled harp seal oil in other countries with bans on seal product imports, please contact harpseals.org.


Alternative Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Atlantic Marine Products produced a brochure that states, "Marine oil, derived from the North Atlantic Harp Seal, has been identified as a rich source of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids." However, flax seed oil (also known as linseed oil), hemp seed oil, and chia seed oil are richer sources of omega-3 fatty acids.


ALA chemical structure


DHA chemical structure


EPA chemical structure

The main difference between animal sources of omega-3 fatty acids and plant sources, such as flax seed oil, is the prevalence of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in animal sources (including fatty fish oils) versus alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in plant foods. Most plant foods have essentially no EPA or DHA; however, the ultimate source of DHA and EPA is actually marine plants - microalgae. Fish consume them and concentrate the fatty acids in their tissues. The fatty acids then travel up the food chain as predatory fish and marine mammals eat prey fish.

Some ALA is converted to DHA and EPA in the human body. Researchers have found a range in the efficiency of conversion of just a few percent to over 10%. Research has suggested that ALA is important in cardiovascular health, and DHA and EPA are important for the cardiovascular and nervous systems and eye health.

There are many ways in which one can consume enough ALA, DHA, and EPA without harming seals or even consuming any animal products. What's more, all marine mammals now have high levels of mercury and other pollutants, including dioxins and PCB's (from man-made pollution) in their bodies, mostly concentrated in the fatty tissue. This has resulted in high levels of mercury in the tissues of the Inuit people of Newfoundland and Labrador, who consume seals, whales, and other marine mammals in their traditional diet.

Some of the companies that sell seal oil supplements claim that their products have been sufficiently purified. In order to prove that, they would need to provide a certificate of analysis from an independent testing laboratory. As a reference, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a recommended maximum daily exposure limit of the dioxin 2,3,7,8- tetrachlorodibenzo para-dioxin (TCDD) of 0.7 pg/kg-day. This means that a 150 lb person should not consume more than 47.7 pg of TCDD per day.

In 2010, a group of environmentalists had samples of fish oil supplements tested for PCB's. These supplements would have lower concentrations of contaminants to begin with than marine mammal oils due to the higher position of marine mammals on the food chain. Three of the tested supplements had higher levels than the maximum concentration of 90 ng per day set by California law.

Two studies have been done in recent years on contaminants in fish and marine mammal fatty acid capsules. Both found very high concentrations of PCBs in some samples (792.9 ppb, 519 ppb). At the recommended doses, consumers could ingest unsafe amounts of PCBs with these capsules.

Thus if one wishes to take ALA, DHA or EPA supplements, safer alternatives than seal oil should be used. Sources of ALA, include flax seeds/flax seed oil or hemp seeds/hemp seed oil. Algae-derived DHA and EPA supplements are readily available from several companies.

A few of these are

Deva ('Vegan Omega-3 DHA' and 'Vegan Omega-3 DHA-EPA')

Spectrum ('Vegetarian DHA')

Source Naturals ('DHA Neuromins®')

Schiff ('MegaRed® Plant-Omega')


See the following journal articles for more information on contaminants in seal oil capsules:

“Persistent Organic Pollutants in Fish Oil Supplements on the Canadian Market: Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Organochlorine Insecticides,” by Dorothea F.K. Rawn, et al., Journal of Food Science, 74:1 2008 pp. T14-T19.

“Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) contamination and aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) agonist activity of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplements: Implications for daily intake of dioxins and PCBs,” by J.A. Bourdon, et al. Food and Chemical Toxicology 48:11 2010 pp. 3093-3097


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