Ocean News

Wanted: White Sharks

17th December 2008

The  in California has received global attention over recent years for its series of captive great white sharks. There is strong controversy surrounding the captivity of such a large pelagic species, especially one listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the . Nonetheless, the sharks have attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors, and each has been successfully released and subsequently tracked, providing valuable information on their movements and behaviour.

Perhaps these white sharks may in fact be ambassadors for their species, bringing people face to face with ‘Jaws’ in a far more accessible manner than the cage diving industry, helping dispel their unwarranted shroud of fear?

But where do these sharks come from? Although white sharks are legally protected off California, in that no deliberate catch is permitted, juveniles are infrequent by-catch of the local halibut fishery. As such the Monterey Bay Aquarium offers a ‘dead or alive’ reward for incidentally caught white sharks ($300 and $2,000 respectively), as permitted by Californian law for ‘scientific or live-display’ purposes. In this way they can acquire specimens without a targeted fishery whilst encouraging catch reporting and release of live sharks.

But, given the reward, could they be inadvertently establishing a targeted white shark fishery in the area?

Are white sharks sufficiently easy to catch that it’s worth the extra effort and cost for fisherman to deliberately seek them out?

Perhaps not, but these are some of the questions being asked by an interesting  published recently, since it seems local landings of white sharks have increased since the aquarium began its white shark programme.

However, a correlation by no means proves a cause-effect relationship; for example the white shark population may just be recovering in the area so there are more to catch, or the cash reward may have simply encouraged reporting of previously unaccounted by-catch.

Unfortunately information on white shark behaviour and ecology remains limited, making it difficult to know if and by how much populations are changing, as well as how much time they spend where. To find out more about the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s white shark research programme, click here.

The Save Our Seas Foundation funds pioneering research into white shark ecology, which aims to better inform management strategies such that they are as effective as possible.