Blog Tags: California
Whether you fear them or admire them, most people have an instant reaction when they hear great white shark.
Intrigue, mystery, and terror have guided attention on great white sharks since they lit up the screens in the 1975 thriller “Jaws.” The film made history 37 years ago for its chilling characterization of these powerful sharks, and swimming in the open ocean has never been the same since.
Great whites are making history once again, this time for their globally declining populations from bycatch in commercial fisheries, capture in beach protective nets, and slaughter for their fins, teeth, and jaws in the shark fin and curio trade.
Here on the US West Coast, new scientific studies have shed light on the status of great white sharks off California and Baja California, Mexico. Our great white sharks are even more unique than we thought; in fact they are genetically distinct and isolated from all other great white sharks around the world. They congregate off Mexican Islands and the “red triangle” off Central California (including the Farallon Islands, Point Reyes, and Point Sur), and make extensive offshore migrations to the distant “white shark Café” and even to the Hawaiian Islands.
But, sadly there may be as little as a few hundred adult great white sharks remaining in this population, far less than anyone expected. This low population alone puts these great whites at great risk of extinction from natural and human-caused impacts. Continued existence of these West Coast great white sharks is threatened by their low population size, inherent vulnerability to capture, slow growth rate, low reproductive output, and the ongoing threats they face from human activities. This is why Oceana is petitioning the federal government and the state of California to list this population of iconic sharks on the Endangered Species List.
What is threatening great white sharks off California and Mexico?
Young great white sharks are un-intentionally caught as bycatch in commercial fishing entangling nets. Set and drift gillnets--which together target California halibut, yellowtail, white seabass, thresher sharks and swordfish--catch great white shark pups in their nursery grounds.
Since 1980, over 10 great white shark pups have been reported being caught in these nets every year. The scary part is that monitoring of bycatch on these fishing vessels is very low so take of these pups remains underreported. In other words, more great white sharks are caught than we are aware.
Additionally, young great white shark “pups” caught in their nursery grounds off the Southern California coast have the second highest mercury level tested on record for any sharks worldwide. These mercury levels exceed six-fold the established thresholds where harmful physiological effects have been documented in other marine fish. Levels of harmful contaminants of PCBs and DDTs in their liver tissue are the highest observed in any shark species reported to date globally.
Endangered species status will bestow additional protections to white sharks, including better monitoring and management to reduce fishery bycatch and additional research to further understand these fascinating top predators of the sea.
As much as we may fear them for their bad rap, we need great white sharks to keep our oceans healthy. Just as wolves keep deer populations under control, great white sharks play a critical top-down role in structuring the marine ecosystem by keeping prey populations in check, such as sea lions and elephant seals, benefiting our fisheries and abundant wildlife.
Listing the West Coast population of great white sharks on the Endangered Species List will help us learn more about the lives and threats of these amazing animals through additional research funding and protection measures.
Please help us in our efforts to protect US West Coast great white sharks from extinction by signing a letter of support for their listing on the Endangered Species Act.
During Shark Week we love watching majestic great whites on TV, but if we don’t act soon to protect them, recordings will be the only place they exist.
In the Pacific, great whites are important predators. As the largest predatory fish on the planet, they can reach lengths over 20 feet and weigh more than 5,000 pounds. They’re shaped like torpedoes and can swim through the water at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour. Great whites can detect electromagnetic currents in the ocean and have such a sharp sense of smell that they can identify blood in the water from up to 3 miles away. You can’t deny that these are impressive animals.
As fearsome as they might be as predators, they’re not the killing machines that they’re often identified as. They use all those prey-detecting skills to help keep the marine food web intact — without great whites, the ocean’s balance would be thrown off.
But that might be what the future holds, if nothing is done. A recent study found that there may only be a few hundred adults left swimming off the coast of California and Mexico, far fewer than anyone expected. And those that are left face deadly dangers from fishing nets.
Newborn great whites are often killed by commercial fishing gear off of Southern California and Baja California, making it hard for the populations to stabilize.
Sharks have inhabited the oceans for more than 400 million years and now they’re disappearing because of human actions. We’re working to get US great whites the protection they need — sign today to help get great white sharks on the Endangered Species Act.
Shark Week starts on Sunday – stay tuned for lots more sharky updates!
In a sweeping 5-0 vote, the Carmel-by-the-Sea City Council took action yesterday evening to ban single-use plastic bags in the quaint and beautiful coastal city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.
Oceana, as part of the Central Coast Sanctuary Alliance of local businesses and conservation organizations, has been advocating to the Council for months to take action to rid this source of pollution in the area and today invite you to celebrate this victory with us. This rides on the heels of similar bans put in place by neighboring Monterey and dozens of other California cities and counties.
Several other cities around Monterey Bay are currently discussing banning single-use plastic bags as well. Oceana will continue the effort to eliminate these plastic bags across the Bay, ultimately moving toward the goal of a statewide ban.
California distributes 19 billion plastic bags per year, many which end up littering our beautiful rivers and beaches and causing undue harm to wildlife.
Ordinances to ban single-use plastic bags are picking up steam here in California. A growing list of cities and counties in the state are taking action to get rid of this frequent source of pollution, which trashes our beautiful rivers and beaches and causes undue harm to wildlife.
Did you know that 19 billion plastic grocery bags are distributed in California each year, many of which end up as litter?
When plastic enters marine waters, it continually breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces that absorb toxic chemicals. Chemical laden plastic pieces are then ingested by wildlife and enter the food chain that we depend upon. In addition, animals can inadvertently ingest or choke on plastic bags. Over 267 species of marine wildlife have been affected by plastic bag litter.
One species in particular is the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle. The largest of all sea turtles, the leatherback swims an incredible 6,000 miles from its nesting beaches in Indonesia to California waters to feed on jellyfish. These prehistoric turtles easily mistake plastic bags swirling in the water for jellies and once ingested the turtles suffer dire consequences like malnutrition, starvation, intestinal blockage, suffocation, and drowning. One study found that one third of Pacific leatherbacks autopsied had plastic in their gastrointestinal tract.
Good thing we have alternatives to plastic bags like re-useable cloth bags, some of which you can even wash after a few visits to the grocery or department store. Re-useable bags also come in handy for other errands and outings like the local farmers market or an afternoon at the beach.
To date, 19 cities and 6 counties in California either have adopted or fully implemented plastic bag bans. Another 44 cities and 6 counties are in process of considering such a ban. The California Supreme Court also recently ruled that expensive Environmental Impact Reports are not required for cities to implement these bans, making it much easier to take action. This map shows cities and counties moving forward to ban plastic bags to date in California. We're asking our Californian supporters to help us fill in the map and ask your local city council to consider banning single-use plastic bags in your area.
And whether or not your hometown has jumped on board with these bans, you can do your part to reduce plastic trash. Take a pledge today to use less plastic, and help keep the oceans a little cleaner.
Oceana’s 4th annual Ocean Heroes Contest kicks off June 6, which gives you one week to think about this question: “Who do I know that works hard for the oceans and deserves recognition?”
From work in activism to conservation, from education to rehabilitation, from sustainability to research, there are likely tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of people who’d make good nominees. This makes it difficult for Oceana’s selection committee to narrow down so many candidates to six youth and six adult finalists.
But do you want some clues on where good nominees live? Allow me to share some statistics collected over the previous three contests (and please note… this is a pretty small sample size):
State Where Most Finalists Live: California. Nearly 1/3 of Ocean Heroes Finalists reside in the Golden State.
Coastal States That Have Never Produced a Finalist: Washington, Oregon, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. This probably has more to do with the small sample size rather than a lack of Ocean Heroes in these states, so nominate the Ocean Heroes near you — it's a matter of state pride.
Landlocked States That Have Produced Finalists: Kentucky, Minnesota, and Washington DC. The nearest ocean being 1000 miles away didn’t stop a shy Minnesota 8-year-old named Sophi Bromenshenkel from selling enough lemonade, hot chocolate and cookies to purchase satellite shark tags for the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami. And, by the way, this land-locked shark-lover won the junior vote and became our 2011 Junior Ocean Hero!
Remember, nominations begin on June 6!
It might seem straight out of science fiction, but this story is real – radioactive tuna could be swimming in an ocean near you.
A new study found that after last spring’s Fukushima nuclear accident, Pacific Bluefin tuna caught off of San Diego appear to have been contaminated by radioactive materials from last spring’s nuclear accident in Japan.
The March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami led to the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant in central Japan. Even now, the only way to enter the zone 20 kilometers around the plant is with special government permission. After the accident, tests showed that concentrations of radioactive Cesium in coastal waters increased up to 10,000-fold.
This study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found the same radioactive Cesium in 15 Bluefin tuna specimens caught outside of San Diego. The fish tested showed a 10-fold increase from normal Cesium concentrations, well below the safety limit established by Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishes.
Bluefin are a highly migratory species – they spawn in the West Pacific near Japan, then, once they have matured, may travel more than 9,000 miles to the East Pacific and the California coast. They’re such strong swimmers that the trip only takes a few months.
During the course of this trip, the radioactive concentration fell as the fish grew and the Cesium decayed. If they had tested tuna from Japan, the radiation would be expected to be up to 15 times more concentrated, according to Daniel Madigan, Zofia Baumann, and Nicholas Fisher, the co-authors of the study.
Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch already lists bluefin as a species to avoid due to severe overfishing and high mercury levels. They’re highly valued as sushi fish, which has led to a steep decline in their populations in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Bluefin tuna are slow to mature, and are often caught before they have a chance to reproduce. Oceana is currently working to protect bluefin tuna from overfishing.
Yesterday afternoon the California Fish & Game Commission voted unanimously to support legislation to designate the Pacific leatherback sea turtle as the state’s official marine reptile.
The Commission often does not take a position on legislation, making yesterday’s decision an even stronger statement as to the importance of California waters to leatherback sea turtles.
Support from the Commission is expected to help push the legislation (Assembly Bill 1776) through the Senate and eventually to the Governor’s desk, where Jerry Brown has until September 30th to sign new bills into law.
The largest of six species of sea turtles in US waters, the leatherback makes an impressive migration from its nesting beaches in Papua, Indonesia to California waters to feed on jellyfish. Its 12,000 mile, round-trip journey is the longest of any marine reptile.
Pacific leatherbacks are listed on the Endangered Species List with as few as 2,100 adult female leatherback sea turtles remaining in the Pacific Ocean population. In January, 16,910 square miles off California’s coast were designated by the National Marine Fisheries Service as critical habitat for the leatherback.
AB 1776 will be heard next in the Senate Committee on Governmental Organization. Stay tuned!
With the help of sustainable seafood guides such as Seafood Watch, we can make informed decisions about what type of seafood to buy based on mercury levels, the type of fishing gear used, and the health of the fishery.
But those guides are undermined if the fish itself is mislabeled. Oceana recently uncovered through DNA testing that in Los Angeles County, 55% of commonly swapped seafood was indeed labeled incorrectly.
This means that we may only be getting the fish we ordered half the time. Seafood fraud is unfair to consumers who may be faced with health risks from consuming seafood with higher contaminant levels, or who are paying more for a less desirable substitute. We should be empowered to consume seafood we think is best for our health and we have the right to be served the seafood we are paying for.
The frustrating part is that there is little oversight on the long journey seafood takes from the ocean to our plate -- from transport to processing, to labeling, to shipping, and finally to grocery stores or restaurants. This extensive journey with little oversight and labeling leaves plenty of room for key information to be lost and for fraud to occur.
So what can be done about seafood fraud?
California is taking a step forward to begin tackling this problem at the state level through new legislation. Senator Ted Lieu introduced Senate Bill 1486, sponsored by Oceana, to require labeling of seafood at large chain restaurants (with 19 or more facilities).
If the bill passes and is signed into law by Governor Brown, chain restaurants will be required to provide information on seafood items ordered including what the species of seafood is; in what country it was caught; and whether it is farmed or wild-caught. So rather than just seeing “Fish sandwich” on the menu, customers will have the information needed to make informed decisions based on health, sustainability, and buying local.
The Senate Health Committee passed the bill at the end of the day yesterday. A huge thanks to the more than 5,000 Oceana Wavemakers in California who weighed in support of this bill with their legislators!
Despite trying to make the best eco-conscious decision, we are being swindled and deceived. Not only is it unjust to consumers, but to the environment and to those fishermen using more responsible practices.
We’ll keep you posted as this legislation progresses, and thanks again for your support.
More good news for sea turtles today: The endangered leatherback sea turtle swam one lap closer today to becoming California’s official marine reptile.
The California Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife voted unanimously today that this ocean ambassador should be an additional state symbol. This is exciting news as the bill heads next to the Assembly floor where all 80 Assemblymembers will vote to determine if the bill moves to the state Senate.
Leatherbacks are truly an impressive species and an important part of the marine ecosystem. Once they reach maturity, leatherback sea turtles swim over 6,000 miles from their nesting beaches in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands to waters off California’s coast to feed on jellyfish.
California waters are a globally important foraging area for leatherbacks and these endangered species are an ecologically important part of the marine ecosystem. In recognition of new scientific information demonstrating the importance of California waters to the survival of Pacific leatherbacks, the National Marine Fisheries Service recently designated nearly 42,000 square miles off the US West Coast as critical habitat, including 16,910 square miles off California’s coast.
Oceana co-authored the petition and weighed in heavily during this 5 year process leading to the final designation to help ensure ensure these awe-inspiring animals are not wiped out by human impacts to their key feeding areas.
Thank you to all of you California Wavemakers who signed the letter of support to your local representative letting them know your support for this legislation. This is truly a time to celebrate the leatherback.
Some fun news today: The Pacific leatherback sea turtle may soon join the California poppy, coast redwood, and grizzly bear as one of California’s official symbols.
Assemblymember Paul Fong introduced legislation (Assembly Bill 1776) that would designate the Pacific leatherback as the state’s marine reptile.
This bill is a fun way for Californians to learn about and appreciate the leatherback, while enshrining the ecological importance of this ancient species into state law. Among other things, the bill will establish October 15as the state’s annual Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day. It also encourages California public schools to include leatherback sea turtles into curriculum when possible and asks the state to support efforts to recover and preserve the leatherback.
The bill must receive enough votes in the Assembly and Senate before it can go to Governor Brown for him to consider signing it into law; the first vote will be in the Assembly this April.
If all goes well we will be celebrating the first Leatherback Day this October! Stay tuned.
- CEO Note: Conservation Needs Strong International Trade Laws Posted Thu, December 5, 2013
- Creature Feature: Atlantic Puffin Posted Fri, December 6, 2013
- Creature Feature: Polar Bear Posted Mon, December 9, 2013
- Stand Up for the Deep Posted Wed, December 11, 2013