The federal government is considering whether to add the West Coast population of great white sharks to the endangered species list.
This summer, two groups petitioned to have the sharks listed. This week, the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that listing may be warranted.
The agency will begin a review of the status of the sharks to find whether they deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in June 2013.
The northeastern Pacific population of great white sharks is found from Baja California to the Bering Sea and as far west as Hawaii. The population is estimated at 340.
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The sharks gather along California’s Central Coast and around Guadalupe Island, Mexico, in late summer and stay until winter when they migrate offshore to open ocean areas in tropical and subtropical regions.
They are most common in areas that have large numbers of seals, a primary food source.
Southern California is considered an important nursery area for juvenile sharks. The main threat to the sharks is degradation of the ocean habitat by pollution and other factors, the petitioners say.
“We conclude that the information in the petitions and in our files suggests that habitat degradation associated with pollutant discharge in the Southern California Bight may be impacting the health of the northeastern Pacific population of white shark,” the National Marine Fisheries Service wrote in the Federal Register.
Human exploitation of the sharks’ food sources and acidification of the oceans may also be contributing factors.