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California To Consider Listing Great White Shark As Endangered Species

Great white sharks are one of the ocean's top predators, but California's Fish and Game Commission today will consider whether to enact protections for them and advance their candidacy to the list of California Endangered Species.

A great white shark swims near Mexico's Guadalupe Island.
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Above: A great white shark swims near Mexico's Guadalupe Island.

The petitioners claim the white shark populations in California waters are dangerously low and that the animals remain threatened by fishing activities and other environmental factors. A study two years ago by UC-Davis, Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station and others estimated the population at around 220, according to the Associated Press.

California State University, Long Beach marine biology Professor Christopher G. Lowe, director of the CSULB Shark Lab and a marine fisheries expert, disagrees with the petition. He said in a statement, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's resources would be better used to protect other species at greater risk.

“Despite what the petition says, I actually think that what we’ve seen in the United States and particularly in California are some of the most impressive conservation success stories that anybody can imagine,” Lowe stated.

Lowe cites successes in federal and California environmental and marine habitat protection laws that have led to significant decreases in the number of juvenile and adult white sharks caught by commercial and recreational fishers.

Commercial fishermen are also unhappy about the potential listing, saying protecting the dorsal-finned predator will make it more difficult for them to do their job, and that American consumers will have to rely more on imports.

The two main population centers for adult Great White Sharks is the Farallon Islands off of San Francisco and Mexico’s Guadalupe Island, though San Diego waters provide a nursery ground for the 5-foot-long great white newborns, said Nick Wegner, shark researcher with Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

"We’ve never actually seen a white shark give birth, but because we have high numbers of juveniles in southern California we suspect that they give birth somewhere in southern California or in adjacent waters," said Wegner.

The sharks can grow to 20 feet long and 4,000 pounds. The Pacific coast had 108 shark attacks recorded over the last hundred years -- half of those occurred between 2000 and 2010. Most victims survived. The latest fatality happened in 2008 off Solana Beach in north San Diego County.

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