Great white shark population on the rise after years of decline

BY Xander Landen  June 22, 2014 at 2:24 PM EDT
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A great white shark is shown in Mexico in 2006. Two studies on sharks released this month reveal the populations of great whites in the Atlantic and Pacific are on the rise. Credit: Terry Goss via Wikimedia Commons

Two studies on sharks released this month reveal the populations of great whites in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are on the rise after a period of harsh decline.

The reports, published in the journal PLOS ONE, indicate the number of great white sharks has rebounded since the population was decimated by overfishing in the 1970s and 80s.

“The good news is that white sharks are returning to levels of abundance,” George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research who led a study about great white populations in the Pacific, told the Christian Science Monitor.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducted its study on the great white population along the western North Atlantic, and credits the United States’ 1997 ban on hunting the shark species for allowing the population to replenish.

In the 1980s, the number of great whites in the Atlantic was estimated to be only 27 percent of what it was in 1961. Now, according to NOAA, that number is back up to 69 percent of the species’ mid-century stock size.

Scientists believe there are between 3,000 and 5,000 great whites currently swimming along the East Coast of the U.S. The study published by the Florida Program for Shark Research estimates there are 2000 swimming off the coast of central California.

Although there are now more great whites swimming in U.S. waters, they are still rarely spotted by humans. There have been only 649 confirmed sightings of the great white between 1800 and 2010.

In the Atlantic, the great white is most frequently seen between Massachusetts and New Jersey during summer months. The fish is more commonly seen in Florida during the winter, depending on the location of its prey — seals and whale carcasses.

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