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Groups seek protection for California's great white sharks

Environmental groups have petitioned the federal government to list the declining population of great white sharks off the coast of California as an endangered species.

The northeastern Pacific Ocean population of great whites is genetically distinct and in danger of extinction, according to the petition. Researchers have estimated there are about 340 individuals in the group that are mature or nearly so.

"There could be fewer than 100 breeding females left," said Geoff Shester, the California program director of Oceana, an international group focused on protecting the world's oceans. "Numbers in this range are lower than most species currently listed as endangered."

Environmentalists said they filed their petition late Friday, but the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could not yet confirm the submission when contacted Saturday.

If granted, the designation could lead to changes in fishing practices and could spur research aimed at restoring the population, said Jim Milbury, a spokesman for the federal agency.

Oceana prepared the petition along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the group Shark Stewards.

"The main threat we are concerned about is bycatch of white shark pups off Southern California and across the border into Mexico, primarily in entangling gillnet fisheries targeting halibut, yellowtail, swordfish, thresher sharks and white seabass," Shester said in an email.

by Howard Blume

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