Powerful Great White Sharks are Weakened by Threat of Extinction

Posted on February 8, 2013
Written by: Geoff Shester

MO_white.jpgGreat white sharks are arguably the most fierce and respected great predators in the ocean. They play a critical role in maintaining healthy oceans by keeping the marine food web in balance, and have earned an iconic lead in cinema and shows. Ironically however, for a species so powerful, they are now facing their biggest threat—us.

Recent scientific studies show the genetically isolated West Coast population of great white sharks–those found off the Pacific coasts of the U.S. and Mexico–is alarmingly low and continues to face threats from bycatch. Deadly gillnets, the primary contributor to great white shark bycatch, are used to catch swordfish, white seabass, California halibut, and thresher sharks; however these are also estimated to account for more than 80 percent of great white sharks caught off California.

As a result, with an estimated adult population of only a few hundred, the West Coast population of great white sharks face the threat of extinction if we do not act soon. The growing concern for this species, combined with the new scientific findings, prompted Oceana, along with other partner environmental groups, to file petitions to the federal and California governments requesting they add the species to their Endangered Species lists. Such listings will lead to future protections aimed at reducing bycatch of young white shark pups in their nursery grounds off Southern California and more research to better understand the complex and amazing lives of the ocean’s most feared and revered predator.

In September, the National Marine Fisheries Service made a positive 90-day finding, determining that this unique population merits full consideration for listing as an endangered or threatened species under federal law. Recognizing the new science documenting the perils facing these great white sharks, NMFS has started their nine month investigation process to determine if they will officially list great white sharks on the federal Endangered Species List, in which a final determination is expected next summer.

Every great white shark counts. These majestic apex predators have been swimming in our oceans for millions of years. Listing great white sharks as an endangered species is the best way to afford protections that ensure they remain part of the ocean ecosystem for another million years to come.

 


 

Geoff Shester is California Program Director at Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. To learn more about Oceana’s work on protecting sharks, please visit www.oceana/whitesharks.org.

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