Scientists Estimate Fewer Than 350 Adults Are Left in Wild
by the Center for Biological Diversity
SACRAMENTO, Calif.— Great white sharks that live off the coast of California are now candidates for protection under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The California Fish and Game Commission voted today to initiate a comprehensive one-year review of the white shark population to determine if it qualifies for state protection. The state will also consider management measures and new regulations to better protect the sharks.
Today’s decision is based on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s recommendation to accept a petition to protect the white sharks, filed in August 2012 by three conservation groups; the groups commend both the Commission and the Department of Fish and Wildlife for recognizing the science documenting the perils facing this population of iconic sharks.
“California’s most feared and revered ocean predators are one step closer to protections they desperately need,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, California program director for Oceana. “Now we can start talking about how to end the continued killing of white shark pups as bycatch in our damaging offshore gillnet fisheries.”
The petition received widespread support from concerned California residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses and legislative members.
New scientific studies show that great white sharks off the West Coast are genetically distinct and isolated from all other great white shark populations worldwide, and that the estimated number of adult sharks in this population is alarmingly low. With a total of approximately 350 adult sharks estimated in the entire population, there could be fewer than 100 reproductive females. This unique population is on the brink of extinction because of its low population size and the ongoing threats it faces from human activities. Great whites are threatened primarily by incidental capture in set and drift gillnet fisheries, which collectively target swordfish, thresher sharks, California halibut and white sea bass. While the targeting and sale of white sharks is already prohibited, there are no limits on the incidental bycatch of white sharks in their nursery areas off Southern California.
“Sharks are such amazing animals, and I’ve been lucky enough to see one when I wasn’t in the water. Despite their power, they’re actually incredibly vulnerable to the terrible way we treat our ocean,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which presented testimony today in favor of protecting the sharks.
“As the apex predator in the California coastal upwelling ecosystem, white sharks play a vital role in the health of that system,” said David McGuire, director of Shark Stewards. “We are hopeful that the Commission will follow the lead of federal recommendations to further investigate the impacts on this population and the population status to ensure these sharks will continue to survive.”
Today’s decision comes in response to a California Endangered Species Act listing petition submitted by Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and Shark Stewards last August. The Department of Fish and Wildlife reviewed the petition; after conducting its own staff analysis, it recommended the Commission advance this population of white sharks to candidacy. A one-year status review will now begin before the final decision on listing is made.
The three groups also submitted a petition to protect the white shark under the federal Endangered Species Act. In September 2012 the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it would begin a full status review to determine whether protection is warranted; a decision is expected in June 2013.