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Great White Shark Population is Not Endangered in the Pacific: Numbers are Growing

First Posted: Jun 17, 2014 07:38 AM EDT

The great white shark is one of the apex predators of the ocean, traveling across the world's oceans as it hunts seals and fish. Yet populations of these massive sharks have continually declined due to human activities; this trend, though, may be changing. Scientists have found that the great white shark is not endangered in the Eastern North Pacific and, in fact, may have population numbers that are growing.

Assessing population numbers of great white sharks is important for determining the health of the species. That's why scientists reanalyzed 3-year-old research that had previously indicated white shark numbers in the Eastern North Pacific were alarmingly low, with only 219 counted at two sites.

"White sharks are the largest and most charismatic of the predator sharks, and the poster child for sharks and the oceans in general," said George Burgess, one of the researchers, in a news release. "If something is wrong with the largest, most powerful group in the sea, then something is wrong with the sea, so it's a relief to find they're in good shape."

The researchers examined two aggregation sites where the earlier count was obtained-the Farallon Islands and Tomales Point. These areas attract seals and the sharks that feed on them. In the end, the scientists found that the sub-populations at both sites were so fluid, that it wouldn't be possible to extrapolate a total population number. That's why the researchers turned to several other known aggregation sites in the Eastern North Pacific to get a better idea of the white shark population. The researchers also conducted a demographic analysis to account for all of the sharks at Farallon Islands and Tomales Point. In the end, they found that the total population is more like 2,000 sharks rather than 200.

"That we found these sharks are doing OK, better than OK, is a real positive in light of the fact that other shark populations are not necessarily doing as well," said Burgess in a news release. "We hope others can take our results and use them as a positive starting point for additional investigation."

The findings are published in the journal PLOS One.

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