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Great White Sharks: What Oceana Does

Great White Shark off Guadalupe Island, Mexico, © Jim Agronick Oceana has partnered with the Center for Biological Diversity, Shark Stewards, and WildEarth Guardians to get the U.S. West Coast population of great white sharks protected under the California and federal Endangered Species Act.

As a result of the strong scientific merits for protection we provided in the federal petition, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced a positive 90-day finding in September 2012 which means NMFS recognizes the new science documenting the perils facing this unique population of great white sharks. Alarmingly the agency’s final decision in June 2013, based upon a Biological Review Team (BRT) report, was that this population of great white sharks do not warrant listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. In December 2013, Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity submitted a critical analysis to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the State of California identifying a series of critical flaws presented in the BRT report. The Department of Fish and Wildlife is poised to make a recommendation to the California Fish and Game Commission on California State Endangered Species Act listing in late February 2014. The Commission is tentatively scheduled to take a final vote on the California listing in April 2014.

In February 2013, the Fish and Game Commission unanimously voted to advance white sharks to candidacy, which means these apex predators are currently receiving the exact same legal protections afforded to other listed endangered species, However candidacy status expires after one year unless the Commission votes to officially list them as threatened or endangered which is why the spring 2014 decision is so critical.

An endangered species listing will enact further conservation measures to reduce and eliminate white shark bycatch in west coast fisheries and increase observer coverage to obtain accurate estimates of bycatch. It may also increase funding for great white shark research. While scientists have learned a great deal about great white sharks over the last two decades in particular, there are still mysteries needing to be solved like when and where these iconic ocean predators breed.

These Endangered Species Act listings would:

  • Obtain more accurate information on the bycatch of great white sharks in California fisheries;
  • Enact precautionary management measures to minimize the bycatch of great white sharks; and
  • Garner additional scientific research to better understand great white sharks and their threats.

Whether you fear them, or are amazed by them, the oceans need sharks. We are already witnessing changes in our oceans from the removal of large shark populations worldwide which has resulted in cascading effects throughout ocean ecosystems, including adverse effects on commercial fisheries. In the California Current Ecosystem, great white sharks are among the few natural predators of seals and sea lions, and play a critical role in keeping the ocean food web in balance.