Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) are important top predators in the ocean. However, this iconic species’ population is in peril. Population assessments for the Northeastern Pacific white shark population, which ranges from Mexico to the Bering Sea, and offshore to Hawaii, estimate that there are only a few hundred adult sharks in this range. There are several important spots for Northeastern Pacific white sharks in California, yet they are vulnerable to ongoing threats, such as incidental catch, pollution, and other issues along our coast.
While fishing for white sharks in California is prohibited, there are no limits on white shark bycatch in U.S. fisheries. Juvenile white sharks are entangled as bycatch by set and drift gillnet fisheries in their nursery habitats off the coast of California. Although these fisheries target other fish such as halibut and white seabass, the gillnets also incidentally entangle juvenile white sharks as bycatch. In addition, white sharks are slow to mature and reproduce, and scientists believe white shark gestation periods last about 12 months, which means that female white sharks may breed only once every two years. Females become mature at around 14-16 years of age, and can have between two and 14 pups per litter. White sharks, as with most long-lived ocean creatures, suffer from high mortality rates during their first year of life. This slow rate of reproduction indicates that it would take a long time for white shark populations to recover from severe population depletion.
What can I do?
Great white sharks have been listed as ‘vulnerable’ to extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but they are in need of protection in California. Supporting the listing of the Northeastern Pacific population of white sharks as endangered or threatened under the California Endangered Species Act would allow California to promote recovery by obtaining more accurate information on the bycatch of white sharks in California fisheries, enact measures to minimize the bycatch of white sharks, and acquire resources and funding to help understand white shark population trends and threats. Thank you for signing our petition to support the listing of the Northeastern Pacific population of white sharks as endangered or threatened under the California Endangered Species Act.