Environmentalist on Monday petitioned to list the West Coast great white shark population under the Endangered Species Act.
Advocates claim that adult great white sharks off the coast of California and Baja California are at “alarmingly low” rates and could be on the brink of extinction because of threats from human activities. Scientists estimate there are fewer than 350 great white sharks off the West Coast.
Three environmental groups, Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and Shark Stewards, filed the petition with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“The new science set off alarm bells for all of us, as no one expected the population to be so dangerously low,” Oceana’s California Program Director Geoff Shester said in a statement. “Great White sharks are powerful allies keeping our oceans healthy, and they need us to protect them far more than we should fear them.”
Although commercial and recreational fishing of great white sharks is banned off the coast of California, some great whites are accidentally killed by fishermen hoping to catch swordfish, white bass, halibut or thresher sharks.
Researches have also found that great white sharks in Southern California contain the second highest mercury level on record for any sharks worldwide, six times higher than levels shown to cause harm, according to the Oceana report.
“These majestic predators are vital for the health and balance of our ocean ecosystems,” David McGuire, director of Shark Stewards, said in a statement. “Even the removal of one sexually mature individual from a population this small can have serious impacts on the population as a whole. They need stronger protection immediately.”
Currently, there are 1,644 species considered endangered, and 374 that are threatened. NOAA will now review the petition to place the great white shark on the endangered species list, and if it finds that there is enough information to substantiate the request, it will start a 90-day status review. Afterward, the agency will publish its findings within one year of the petition, proposing to list the species as endangered.
A species’ endangerment is determined solely on scientific research and not on economic impacts. Once the species is listed, a critical habitat will be designated.