Groups urge Great White protection

2012-08-16 18:16
Great white sharks swimming off the California coast should be protected under the US Endangered Species Act, according to a trio of environmental groups.

Great white sharks swimming off the California coast should be protected under the US Endangered Species Act, according to a trio of environmental groups. (Shutterstock)

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VIDEO: Great white sharks

2012-08-16 10:20

This National Geographic video on YouTube discusses the danger of great white sharks to humans off the South African coast.WATCH

Washington - Great White sharks swimming off the California coast should be protected under the US Endangered Species Act, according to a trio of environmental groups that contend there are fewer than 350 of the animals in these western coastal waters.

Commercial fishing by US and Mexican vessels is the primary threat to Great White sharks in this area, the scientific petition by the groups Oceana, Centre for Biological Diversity and Shark Stewards said.

The request for federal protection was filed on Monday with the US National Marine Fisheries Service in Washington, with a second petition to be filed this week under California's Endangered Species Act, Geoff Shester of Oceana said in a telephone interview.

Until 2011, there was no way to tell how many Great Whites lived off the coast of California, Baja California and Mexico, Shester said on Wednesday.

In 2011, two studies of this population of Great White sharks in the Pacific found it to be genetically distinct and isolated from other groups of these creatures around the globe, he said. The studies estimated there are fewer than 350 adult and sub-adults in these waters.

Vulnerable


Although there is no way to know how many sharks were in the area previously, it is known that their main prey - California sea lions, harbour seals and elephant seals - were depleted by human exploitation in the 1700s and 1800s, according to Shester.

While the seal and sea lion populations have rebounded, it will probably take Great White sharks longer to do so, because this species grows slowly and most Great Whites do not reproduce until the age of 10 years and have few young.

The low estimate for the Great White shark population off the West Coast makes the group inherently vulnerable, said Shester, Oceana's California programme director.

A total population of 350 means there are probably fewer than 100 breeding females, he said. This would make it challenging for the Great White shark population to rebuild.

If this group of sharks went extinct, he said, other groups would survive, but these animals would be gone from the North American West Coast for centuries or millennia, because this population does not commingle with other groups.

"These are iconic top predators that are basically keeping the entire food web of our ocean in check," Shester said.

"They regulate populations of seals and sea lions and that benefits entire ecosystem including our fisheries. Ultimately the loss of top predators like sharks could have disastrous consequences for oceans and coastal economies that depend on it."
Read more on:    marine life
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