For Immediate Release, September 27, 2012
||Geoff Shester, Oceana, (831) 207-6981
Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 845-6703
David McGuire, Shark Stewards, (415) 350-3790
Taylor Jones, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 353-1490
Great White Sharks One Step Closer to Protections
National Marine Fisheries Service to Conduct In-depth Review of West Coast Population
WASHINGTON— The National Marine Fisheries Service today announced a positive 90-day finding on two petitions to list the West Coast population of great white sharks under the Endangered Species Act. The Fisheries Service determined that the population merits further consideration for listing as an endangered or threatened species. Today’s decision is in response to Endangered Species Act listing petitions submitted this summer by Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, Shark Stewards and WildEarth Guardians. The conservation groups commend the Fisheries Service for recognizing new science documenting the perils facing this unique population of great white sharks.
“We commend the Fisheries Service for elevating great white sharks one step closer toward the protections they desperately deserve,” said Geoff Shester, California program director for Oceana. “The alarm bells are ringing and we need to take action to address the bycatch of great white shark pups in our fisheries.”
Over the next nine months, the Fisheries Service will conduct an in-depth status analysis of the shark population and make a final determination of whether to add this population to the federal endangered species list. Today’s decision also initiates a formal public comment period. The impetus for the finding is the publishing of new scientific studies showing 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 the estimated number of adult sharks in this population is alarmingly low. With central estimates of only a few hundred adults remaining, this unique population is on the brink of extinction because of its small population size and the ongoing threats it faces from human activities.
“Great white sharks are an incredible species that have survived for eons along the West Coast,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Sadly, they’re in deep trouble right now, so we’re glad to see them a step closer to getting the help they need to survive.”
Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and Shark Stewards also submitted a scientific petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to earn the shark population an endangered listing at the state level. It is anticipated that the Commission will make an initial determination in the next few months.
Deadly gillnets capture and kill great white sharks and are presently the leading identified threat to their survival. While the direct capture of white sharks for sale is prohibited off the coasts of California and Mexico, young great white sharks are killed as incidental bycatch in set and drift gillnets targeting species including California halibut, white seabass, thresher sharks and swordfish. These nets are responsible for more than 80 percent of the reported young white sharks caught in their nursery grounds. Young great white sharks off the Southern California coast are also found to have some of the highest contaminant levels of mercury, PCBs and DDT of any sharks worldwide.
“As the top predator in our waters, great white sharks are critical for the balance and health of the California coastal upwelling ecosystems,” said David McGuire of Shark Stewards. “Protecting these sharks and their habitat would bring them one step closer to restoring productivity and diversity to our ocean and ocean life."
Great white sharks are a critical part of the ocean ecosystem, playing an important top-down role in structuring the ecosystem by keeping prey populations — such as those of sea lions and elephant seals — in check. The presence of great white sharks ultimately increases species stability and the diversity of their entire ecosystem. An Endangered Species Act listing would afford the imperiled distinct population of great white sharks additional safeguards from key threats and garner more funding for research to better understand the population’s status and its threats.
“In the sea as on land, predators are key species in maintaining the natural balance,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “They often face unjust and disproportionate persecution or intensive human exploitation — and great white sharks are no exception. We’re pleased that the Fisheries Service is recognizing the importance of these powerful creatures and the serious threats they face.”
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 550,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Shark Stewards is dedicated to protecting sharks from over fishing and shark finning through policy and advocacy. A project of the non- profit Turtle Island Restoration Network, our mission is to mobilize people in local communities around the world to protect marine wildlife and the oceans and inland watersheds that sustain them.
WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization that works to protect endangered species and biodiversity, in part, by attempting to obtain Endangered Species Act listing for all deserving species. WildEarth Guardians’ endangered species program works to protect imperiled marine and terrestrial species and their habitat throughout the United States and beyond.