The Beacon

Blog Tags: Great White Shark

North Atlantic Great White Sharks are Rebounding, but that’s Not the Case for All Species

A great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)

A great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias). (Photo: Ken Bondy / Flickr Creative Commons)

Great white sharks are arguably the most widely-known shark species, but unfortunately, they’re not known for their roles as apex predators that are crucial to healthy ocean ecosystems. Instead, some have characterized them as vicious monsters of the deep, and the media over-sensationalizes rare attacks—which doesn’t  help conservation efforts.


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Future of Great Whites in the Hands of California Leaders

Great white sharks like this one risk extinction unless we move to award them the protections they so desperately need. Photo: Sharkdiver.com

We are alarmed by the recent decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) not to provide needed protections for U.S. West Coast great white sharks under the federal Endangered Species Act. NMFS declined protections despite current science estimates of only a few hundred sub-adult and adult white sharks at their primary aggregation sites. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) petition submitted by Oceana and its partners to NMFS met all the legal criteria and demonstrated through the best available science that this special population of great white sharks clearly warrants protections under the ESA.


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"Snuffy the Seal": Offensive or Effective?

Whether this was your first or fiftieth time watching the Discovery Channel’s viral Shark Week ad, “Snuffy the Seal,” the video is sure to have caught your attention. The ad has been called “polarizing,” “controversial,” and even “horrifying.” Loved or hated, there’s no doubt that the video is effective – mere minutes after the promo aired, “Snuffy the Seal,” was a trending topic on Twitter, and dozens of news articles have been written in the days since its release on the ad’s effectiveness and shock value.


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Great Whites Now Have Endangered Species Protections

The man in the gray suit now protected by law. Photo: Jim Agronick

It’s official; as of today, California’s great white sharks are now fully protected under the California Endangered Species Act! As new candidates for protection under this law, while the state of California considers permanent actions, the ocean’s most iconic sharks will now receive the exact same legal protections afforded to other listed endangered species, placing them in the company of the furry sea otter and the majestic blue whale.  As of today, it is now a criminal offense to pursue, catch, or kill a white shark in California. With recent population estimates of fewer than 350 adult white sharks, this action may be just in time to keep them from extinction.

The main threat to great whites is incidental capture in drift and set gillnets which together target swordfish, thresher sharks, halibut, and white seabass. Since the 1980s there has been an average of over 10 reported interactions of great white sharks in these gillnets annually, and up to 30 reports in a single year. The number of observers who go out to sea on these fishing vessels and document bycatch is currently very low, so we don’t know the full extent of this bycatch. Also of concern is what scientists call post-release mortality. While some great whites are released from gillnet capture alive, others die shortly after from severe damage inflicted to their organs and internal bleeding. Bycatch in fisheries, under-reporting, and post-release mortality, in culmination with a low population size, slow growth, and a low reproductive rate could be enough to jeopardize the recovery of the unique population of great white sharks off California.


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Great White Sharks Caught off of Los Angeles

In the video above, people are shocked that a fisherman accidentally caught two great whites off of the pier at Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles in the same day (both sharks were released). But, in fact, this isn’t too surprising given that the waters off of Southern California are the main nursery grounds for our west coast population of great white sharks.

Researchers believe young great white shark “pups” spend their first couple years in the warm ocean waters off Southern California and Northern Mexico, where they feed on several species of forage fish like squid, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and hake.  Researchers also believe Southern California waters may serve as birthing sites for great white pups as well.  After reaching about 6 years of age, great whites get big enough to join the other adult sharks that feed on seals and sea lions, playing an important ecological role as some of the ocean’s few natural predators.  Ultimately, this helps keep our ocean food web in balance, ensuring healthy marine wildlife populations and vibrant fishing opportunities.  


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Great White Shark Petition Moves Forward

Facing extinction ©Wikimedia Commons

We have good news to share: the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has looked at our petition to have West Coast great white sharks listed as an endangered species – a petition 44,000 of you backed – and has agreed to take it to the next level!

Having agreed that these sharks may qualify for endangered status, NMFS will now spend the next nine months researching the sharks and will announce their final decision in June 2013.

This is an important milestone, and we want to thank you for helping make it happen. Those 44,000 signatures showed that great whites have supporters across the country and that people are paying attention to what happens off our shores. We're so grateful for your help  – and the sharks are too.

Recent scientific studies show that great white sharks off the coast of California and Baja California, Mexico are genetically distinct and isolated from all other great white shark populations and that there are only a few hundred adult sharks remaining in this population.

The biggest threat to great white sharks on the West Coast right now are the gillnets that are trapping their young. We're hoping that this effort will lead to more research, increased observer coverage and management of the fisheries that are harming them, and more awareness of the importance and vulnerability of these magnificent creatures. Great white sharks are a vital part of the ocean food web, and we can’t let them disappear.

We will keep you posted as the story unfolds!


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Top 5 Myths About Sharks

Basking sharks are gentle giants, nothing to fear here (unless you're plankton). ©NOAA

Happy Shark Week!

Sharks are the center of a lot of stories and urban legends, but you might be surprised by the truth behind some of the most common myths about sharks. In honor of Shark Week, we’re going to dispel some of the major myths surrounding sharks and shark behavior.

MYTH #1: All sharks are voracious predators, looking to attack anything in sight, including humans.
FACT:
While some shark species do have aggressive tendencies, most hunt only to find food (and humans aren’t on the menu). Just like other top predators, sharks make a meal out of animals lower in the food web, keeping the ocean habitat in balance. Only a few species have been known to attack humans unprovoked, and that’s often because of poor visibility or inquisitive bites. There are even species, like the whale shark and the basking shark, that are filter feeders that eat fish eggs, krill, and other microorganisms in the water.

MYTH #2: Sharks do not attack at midday.
FACT:
It’s true that there are fewer attacks in the middle of the day, but that’s not because sharks aren’t active then—it’s because everybody’s out of the water eating lunch. Sharks are most active at dawn and dusk, but it’s possible to encounter at shark at nearly any time of day.

MYTH #3: Sharks have walnut-sized brains.
FACT:
Sharks are actually pretty smart! They have some of the largest brains in the fish world (along with their close relatives, rays), and their brain-to-body size ratios are similar to birds and mammals. Sharks have been known to exhibit complex social behavior, curiosity, and play in the wild. Many species live in groups and hunt in packs.

MYTH #4: In order to stay alive, a shark must constantly be moving.
FACT:
The movement of swimming allows water to pass over a shark’s gills so that they can breathe, but some species have adaptations that allow them to stay still and breathe at the same time. When resting, some sharks can lie on the sea floor and actively pump water over their gills.

MYTH #5: Sharks have no predators.
FACT:
Yes it’s true that sharks are at the top of the food chain, but they have a very powerful predator: humans. Each year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins, sport, or caught and killed as bycatch. By removing so many of these important predators without allowing them time to restore their populations, we’re disrupting the balance of the marine food web.

The great white shark, the most iconic shark in the ocean, faces serious threats off the West coast of the United States. Only a few hundred are left, and their populations aren’t recovering quickly — unless we do something. Sign today to help improve protections for great white sharks in the Pacific.


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Can Sharks 'Go Rogue'?

great white shark

Great white shark in South Africa. [Image via Discovery.com]

Editor's note: Happy Shark Week! All week long we'll be re-capping some highlights from Shark Week programming. Today we review "Going Rogue" and "Summer of the Shark."

Would a shark ever “go rogue” and start mercilessly attacking humans? That’s the question that last night’s episode in the Shark Week lineup sought to answer. Ever since New England beachgoers were terrorized by a rogue shark in “Jaws,” it has been a common fear that sharks, particularly great whites, are ruthless, man-eating machines.

This episode shed some light on the matter with a mix of shark attack stories and scientific studies on shark behavior. The conclusions likely elicited a collective sigh of relief across America: Sharks have never in fact gone rogue like Jaws did, but instead almost always bite a human as a result of other environmental factors at play.

In reality, the likelihood of being attacked by a shark is extremely slim. So for all the readers out there who were wondering whether it was safe to go back in the water, consider the possibility of a shark going rogue to be out of the question.


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An Invasion of Great White Sharks?

great white shark

Great white shark. © Oceana/David Stephens

Editor's note: Happy Shark Week! All week long we'll be re-capping some highlights from Shark Week programming, starting with today, and "Great White Invasion."

Great white sharks appear to be more common than ever nowadays, according to “Great White Invasion,” which aired last night as a part of Shark Week's first night of programming. The episode tracked these huge predators as they encroach on popular beaches from Australia to South Africa to southern California.

Why they are coming closer to shore is not completely understood, but scientists point to the availability of fish as well as the opportunity for sharks to sunbathe and enjoy higher oxygen levels in shallower waters as possible explanations. And even though the number of annual shark attacks worldwide has risen in recent years, it is still extremely low compared to the number of beachgoers.

So are great whites really “invading” our coastlines? Not quite. In fact, according to the Census for Marine Life, scientists estimate that there are only about 3,500 great white sharks left in the entire world. Of these, an estimated 219 live off the central California coast, so in reality, sharks aren’t exactly swarming in our oceans just yet.


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Fact of the Day: Great White Shark

great white shark

Great White Shark (credit: Oceana/David P Stephens)

The final FOTD for Shark Week is on the fascinating great white shark, or white shark. Despite their reputation as man-eaters, great white sharks are actually more threatened by humans than vice versa.


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