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Oceana Magazine: Fall 2012

Jaws in Jeopardy

By Rachael Prokop

Imagine for a moment if the movie “Jaws” were re-made, but instead of playing the man-eating villains, sharks were the victims. Massive fishing nets would entangle and drown young sharks, while humans frolicked, carefree, on the beach.

That movie could be made now, but it would be a documentary. Off the West Coast of the United States and Baja California, Mexico, the famed small population of great white sharks is facing the deadly specter of extinction, and Oceana is fighting to save them.

The villain in our story is the gillnet, a “curtain of death” hundreds of yards long that poses the single greatest threat to the future of these sharks. Gillnets are indiscriminate—they catch the fish they are intended for, and anything else swimming by. The region’s main gillnet fisheries are off southern California, waters that also happen to be a nursery for great whites.

The peak seasons for California halibut, white seabass, and swordfish, all targeted by gillnets, coincide with the season that young great white sharks congregate in these waters. Every year, on average over 10 great white shark pups are reported to be accidentally caught in these nets, and more, scientists believe, are unreported.