Great White Sharks Booming on US Coasts

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Great White Sharks

With so many qualifiers for the endangered species list, it should come as a relief to know one name can be crossed from the ranks. A new study conducted on both the east and west US coasts has found the population of great white sharks is booming.

The end of the 20th century saw a sharp decline in the species due to the high volume of sharks being accidentally snared in fishing traps and succumbing to legalized poaching in select countries. Researchers of a study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE first noticed large amounts of the animals situated around the Gulf of Mexico in the winter months. Warmer temperatures cause the sharks to migrate up the eastern coast.

A study was conducted by a group of scientists associated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The team suggests recent conservation efforts could have been a key factor which allowed the shark population to explode. One of the researchers, Cami McCandless, said, “The species appears to be recovering…the management tools appear to be working.”

The findings did not end there. A team of scientists, based at the Florida Museum of Natural History, decided to examine three-year-old data that cited a staggeringly low number of just 219 sharks in the Eastern North Pacific. Petitions to save the sharks began making headway shortly thereafter. However, biologists at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) were able to deduce the population of sharks was on the rise. After correlating their own numbers with the study published in PLOS ONE, listing the species as endangered was deemed unnecessary. Heidi Dewar, leader of the NMFS team, said, “We determined…there was a low to very low risk of extinction…most developments suggest an increase in population.”

Despite the boom in population of great white sharks on US coasts, the species remains protected by conservationists. However, they can be incredibly difficult to track due to the migration habits of the species. Sharks do not need to surface to breathe, and their hunting patterns are virtually unpredictable. Some groups of sharks will stick close to shore to prey on seals while others venture far out in search of vulnerable schools of fish. Many sharks are still falling victim to overfishing because of their tendency to stray into water that is not mandated by any restrictions. While it is currently impossible to count the number of sharks located in coastal waters, having up-to-date estimates is important so conservation efforts can be directed towards species that remain in dire need.

Keeping the population of great white sharks healthy is essential and greatly beneficial to the ecosystem. The sharks fulfill their role as apex predators by regulating the populations of other species. While the long-term future of the sharks remains uncertain, partially because of the low reproduction rates of the species, the population does not appear to be on the brink of extinction. Conservation efforts can be refocused to other areas now that a recent study has concluded the population of great white sharks along US coasts is booming.

By Sam Williams

Washington Post
National Geographic
Science Daily