Advocates Seek Endangered Species Act Listing for Rare Population of Great White Sharks
Pollution and Fishing Imperils Ocean's Top Predator
Washington, DC –
WildEarth Guardians today submitted a petition to the National Marine Fisheries
Service seeking to list the West Coast population of great white shark as
“threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This tiny population
of approximately 440 sharks inhabits the Pacific Ocean between California and
Hawaii and is threatened by pollution, habitat destruction, and human
exploitation. Great white sharks world-wide have suffered large population
declines and are designated as “vulnerable” by the International Union for
Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“The film Jaws contributed to years of human
persecution and made great whites a popular target of sport fishing,” said
Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Now it is
the sharks who ‘need a bigger boat’ to survive – the legal ark of the Endangered
Because of their
near-legendary “big-fish” status, great white sharks have very high commercial
value; teeth can sell for $600 - $800 per tooth and jaw sets can be valued at
up to $50,000. The high value of these products
encourages poaching and illegal trade in shark parts.
presents a particular problem for the petitioned population segment. Contaminants,
including pesticides, fertilizers, trace metals,
petroleum, and organochlorines
such as PCBs are washed into the California Bight, an important habitat for
young great white sharks. High levels of mercury and organochlorine,
contaminants found in great white sharks in the Southern California Bight, may
be causing behavioral alterations, emaciation, cerebral lesions, and impaired
sexual development. As top predators, sharks are susceptible to bioaccumulating
large amounts of mercury; on average, mercury accumulates to levels a million
times higher in the bodies of predatory fish than in the atmosphere.
This population of great white sharks adheres to an
interesting migratory pattern.
Adults spend most of their time in coastal aggregation sites either off
central California or near Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja California.
Adult males will gather yearly in a patch of ocean between Hawaii and
California known as the White Shark Café. Females migrate once every two years
to an expansive area around the Café, but are usually only found in the Café
itself once the males have returned to their coastal aggregation sites.
Great white sharks have a low reproductive rate – they
mature slowly and females give birth only once every 2-3 years, to litters of
2-10 pups. Pup survival is likely low. Because of this, it is difficult for
great white shark populations to recover from even minor losses - research off the Farallon Islands in California suggested
that the removal of only four white sharks greatly reduced and may have
temporarily eliminated an entire local population of sharks.
including great whites, play an important role as apex predators in maintaining
ocean bio-communities. Ecosystem stability and biodiversity, Congressional
priorities for the ESA, could seriously suffer from the loss of these top
“In the sea as
on land, predators are key species in maintaining
the natural balance,” continued Jones. “They often face unjust and
disproportionate persecution or intensive human exploitation—the great white shark
is no exception. Yet protection for these powerful creatures would result in
benefits for a host of other organisms that share their habitat.”
the ESA has proven an effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99
percent of plants and animals listed under the Act persist today. The law is
especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants
and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of
extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would
have gone extinct if not for ESA listing. Listing species with global
distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S.
resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the