They are known as one of the deadliest creatures on Earth. But according to a shocking new study, great white sharks are also one of the most endangered. Wildlife experts say there are now fewer than 3,500 great whites left in the oceans, making them rarer than tigers.Yesterday, marine biologists called for an end to mankind’s long battle with sharks and demanded urgent action to prevent them going extinct.Great white sharks have a deserved reputation as ruthless and efficient killers, who use ambush techniques to attack fish, dolphins and seals from below.
They can grow 20 feet in length, weigh up to 5,000 lb and are found in any warm coastal waters – from the Mediterranean to New Zealand. Most, however, live off the coasts of California, Mexico, Australia and South Africa.The new estimates of their population are due to published later this year by scientists at Stanford University who have been studying the migration of sharks tagged with radio transmitters.They found that great whites are incredible long distance swimmers, capable of travelling 12,000 miles in nine months.
To their astonishment, the researchers found that sharks seen swimming around Hawaii were the same individuals seen off the coast of California just six months later.Dr Ronald O’Dor, senior scientist at the Washington based Census of Marine life who has seen the findings of the unpublished report, said the number of great whites in the wild was far smaller than scientists realised.‘The estimated total population of great white sharks in the world’s oceans is actually less than the number of tigers,’ he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego, California.‘We hear an awful lot about how endangered tigers are but apparently great white sharks are pretty close to the same level. Some people say they don’t care because they eat people, but I think we have to give them a little space to live in.
‘The Australians have now got a system where they put tags on great white sharks and they have receivers on the beaches so when a great white comes into the bay the receiver automatically makes a cell phone call and tells the guy in charge to close the beach. So we can coexist with marine life.’
Last year, Stanford researchers revealed that California sharks migrated thousands of miles across the Pacific, while others swam from South Africa to Australia and back in nine months.They also discovered that the sharks congregated in an area dubbed the “White Shark Café” for 100 days each year halfway between the Baja Peninsula of California and the Hawaiian Islands .
‘People see a great white shark on the South California coast – and another hundreds of miles away,’ said Dr O’Dor.‘We are now understanding that they are more mobile than we thought – and actually it’s the same shark appearing in different places.‘Until recently, people thought sharks were bad and there was no urge to save great whites. Now people are beginning to understand that they are rare and that they are a wonderful species.’Although they were once thought to be “eating machines”, recent research has also shown they are skilled and canny ambush hunters, taking their prey from below.Despite their grisly public image from the movie Jaws, great whites rarely eat people, finding them too bony for their digestive systems.Each year they are responsible for five to 10 attacks on people.Some shark experts say attacks on people are usually accidental – with the creatures mistaking people for seals.They have grey bodies – and get their name from their white bellies.They are streamlined swimmers, capable of swimming up to 15mph. Their mouths are lined with up to 300 serrated teeth lined in several rows.They have organs that detect prey by the tiny electromagnetic fields generated by all animals. Great whites are victims of overfishing and hunting.