Great White Sharks Are Now Protected under California Law

Some good news for the oceans' greatest predator.

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University of California, Davis / Associated Press

A great white shark investigates a fake seal decoy used by UC Davis researchers in the Pacific Ocean near San Francisco.

Here’s some good news for the ocean’s greatest predator: great white sharks are now protected by California’s Endangered Species Act, NBC News reported.

Under the act, the world’s largest predatory fish may not be hunted, pursued or killed off the coast of California, and anyone caught harming one could face criminal prosecution.

Three environmental groups asked the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife to add the great white at the beginning of February.  They presented data to members of the California Fish and Game Commission indicating that in 2011 and 2012, the number of adult and juvenile great whites found in the area’s two main feeding grounds was less than 340, according to Reuters.

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Great whites have been off-limits to commercial and sport fishing under California law since 1994, Reuters noted.  However, the fish, particularly young ones, still wind up as “bycatch” in gill-nets intended for halibut, swordfish and white sea bass off of California and Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.  Such bycatch, also known as “incidental taking,” has been unrestricted.

The shark’s new status means special permits will be required for scientific research and in the case of accidental capture.

Scientists consider the West Coast population of the shark to be “genetically distinct” and isolated from other great whites around the world, and according to Reuters are thought to exist in fewer numbers than those of Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the Atlantic.

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The protection for great white sharks is part of the species’ consideration for listing as an endangered species. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife may decide to add sharks to its endangered list by early 2014, according to NBC News.  Australia and South Africa have already listed their great whites as endangered.