Sharks inch toward protection

02/14/2013

Calls by wildlife conservation groups pushing California to consider classifying great white sharks an endangered species were answered last week, when the California Fish and Game Commission agreed to take steps to determine whether one of the ocean’s most savage predators faces possible extinction. Last Wednesday’s vote, which drew unanimous approval from the lawmaking arm of the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, authorizes a review process to determine whether great whites along California’s coast require increased protection. Dr. Geoff Shester, the California program director for Oceana, one of three wildlife groups behind a petition sent last August to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, sees the decision as the beginning of an effort to bring the species “one step closer to the protections they desperately need.” The other groups include a Tuscon, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity and Shark Stewards, a part of the Turtle Island Restoration Network. The yearlong review, required under the state’s Endangered Species Act, could result in more restrictions on marine activities, such as fishing, along the coast. The agency also announced plans to consider developing new management and regulatory measures to protect the sharks. Recent studies, including a 2009 assessment by Stanford University, show the great white population in the region is on the brink of extinction, according to a news release by Oceana. It estimated the population, affected particularly the fishing industry, has dropped to about 350 adult sharks, including 100 females. Great whites are seen throughout the year circling waters around Point Reyes, though sightings are most common in the late summer and early autumn months, when migrating sea lions and other prey turn up around the peninsula.