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Nature & Environment Shark Week Attacks: Great Whites Struggle Off Screen in California

Shark Week Attacks: Great Whites Struggle Off Screen in California

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First Posted: Aug 06, 2013 01:46 PM EDT
Great White Shark
Scientists have found that about 50 million years ago in an Arctic Ocean, sharks managed to tolerate water that contained the same percentage of freshwater as Louisiana's Lake Ponchatrain does today. A juvenile great white shark at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. (Photo : Randy Wilder/Stanford)

It's finally here! Shark Week has made its annual appearance on Discovery Channel, including hours of programming featuring these oceanic creatures. Yet as viewers tune in, sharks are struggling off screen. It turns out that great white sharks off of the U.S. West Coast are in jeopardy, which could drastically impact the oceanic ecosystem.

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"Healthy oceans need sharks," said January Jones, a long time Oceana supporter and shark advocate, in a news release. "Too many are being caught in fishing nets. There may only be a few hundred adult great whites left off the West Coast. We should be scared for great whites."

Sharks have gathered a bad reputation in the past. In fact, this announcement comes just after two separate shark attacks that occurred last week off the coast of Oahu and Maui in Hawaii, according to the Huffington Post. While shark attacks are rare, their severity can help spark the public's fear of these large creatures. One of the recent attacks resulted in a 15-inch gash on one of the victims' backs, which could mean that the shark was as much as 25 feet long.

While these creatures may seem ferocious, though, they're usually just curious. Great whites will often take an exploratory "nibble" of something to test whether or not it's edible; unfortunately, this bite can result in some serious injuries when a shark grows to be so large. Yet scientists are learning how to get around that by designing suits that can make the wearer invisible to sharks, or merely unappetizing-looking. In fact, we're endangering sharks more than they're endangering us.

Recent studies have shown that great white sharks found off of California make up a genetically distinct population. Yet estimates indicate that there may only be a few hundred of these giants left in the area. Many young great whites are unintentionally caught in fishing nets, which could explain the drop in population numbers.

"The danger is that since our population is genetically and reproductively isolated from all the other white shark populations in the world, if we lose our sharks we don't get any back," said Geoff Shester, Oceana Program Director, in a news release. "We lose great white sharks forever in our ecosystem."

Currently, Oceana is campaigning for the California population to be listed as an endangered species under the California state Endangered Species Act. This could potentially ensure the future of these great whites, which makes up such an important part of the ecosystem. 

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