Great White Sharks' California Dreams Come True; State Names It Protected Species

By iScienceTimes Staff on March 1, 2013 11:54 AM EST

Great white shark
Great white sharks are now a protected species under California law. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Great white sharks in California are now considered a protected species under state law, meaning anyone caught harming or catching the sharks could face stiff fines and jail time. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife reported that great white sharks off their coast are protected by the California Endangered Species Act as of March 1. Three environmental groups asked the CDFW to protect the great white sharks in California at the beginning of February. The groups said there are only around 340 great whites in California and the Northwestern Pacific region, making them in danger of extinction.

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"While targeted sport and commercial fishing for white shark has been banned in waters off California since the mid-1990s, there were some exceptions that allowed for incidental take and take associated with research activities," said Marci Yaremko, program manager for state and federal marine fisheries at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, in a statement. "The Department now will consider exceptions only on a case-by-case basis, and will authorize take only under permits issued pursuant to CESA."

Great white sharks in California and beyond are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' "Red List" of threatened species, and are now regionally protected in many areas of the world including South Africa, Namibia, the Maldives, Malta, Australia, the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard and Gulf Coast and the coast of California.

"This is an effort that the three organizations and a lot of supporters have put a lot of energy, effort and passion into," Ashley Blacow, Pacific policy and communications manager for Oceana, an international conservation group, told the Ventura County Star.

Petitions were prompted by recent research that the groups say found alarmingly low numbers of white sharks and threats to their habitat.

State biologists say there aren't very good population estimates for great whites in California waters, but add that there is general agreement that their numbers are low, as is typical for long-lived, slow-growing apex predators.

Researchers have tried to track the number of great white sharks in California by using DNA samples, visual clues such as distinct scars or markings, even radio tags that track shark's locations via satellite. One great white shark in California swam to Hawaii and back twice in two years.

More information on white shark and CESA candidacy is available on the department's white shark information page at www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/whiteshark.asp.

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