NACO

National Association of Charterboat Operators

90-Day Finding on Petitions To List the Northeastern Pacific Ocean Distinct Population Segment of Great White Shark as Threatened or Endangered

We, NMFS, announce a 90-day finding on two petitions received to list the northeastern Pacific Ocean population of great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) as a threatened or endangered distinct population segment (DPS) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and to designate critical habitat concurrently with the listing. We find that the petitions and information in our files present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. We will conduct a status review of the species to determine if the petitioned action is warranted. To ensure that the status review is comprehensive, we are soliciting scientific and commercial information pertaining to this species from any interested party.

Information and comments on the subject action must be received by November 27, 2012.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, information, or data, identified by ``NOAA-NMFS-2012-0176'' by any one of the following methods:

     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov. To submit comments via the e-Rulemaking Portal, first click the ``submit a comment'' icon, then enter ``NOAA-NMFS-2012-0176'' in the keyword search. Locate the document you wish to comment on from the resulting list and click on the ``Submit a Comment'' icon on the right of that line.

     Mail or hand-delivery: Protected Resources Division, Southwest Region, NMFS, 501 West Ocean Blvd., Suite 4200, Long Beach, CA 90802-4213.

    Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record and may be posted to http://www.regulations.gov without change. All personally identifiable information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business information or other information you wish to protect from public disclosure. NMFS will accept anonymous comments. Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, Corel WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Craig Wingert, NMFS, Southwest Region, (562) 980-4021; or Marta Nammack, NMFS, Office of Protected Resources, (301) 427-8469.

Background

On June 25, 2012, we received a petition from WildEarth Guardians 

to list the northeastern Pacific Ocean DPS of great white shark 

(Carcharodon carcharias) as threatened or endangered under the ESA. The 

petitioners also requested that critical habitat be designated for this 

DPS under the ESA. On August 13, 2012, we received a second petition, 

filed jointly by Oceana, Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), and 

Shark Stewards, to list the northeastern Pacific Ocean DPS of white 

shark (another common name for the great white shark) under the ESA and 

designate critical habitat. Both petitions bring forth much of the same 

or related factual information on the biology and ecology of great 

white sharks, and raise several identical or similar issues related to 

potential factors affecting this species. As a result, we are 

considering both petitions simultaneously in this 90-day finding. 

Copies of the petitions are available upon request (see ADDRESSES, 

above).

 

ESA Statutory, Regulatory, and Policy Provisions and Evaluation 

Framework

 

    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the ESA of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 

et seq.), requires, to the maximum extent practicable, that within 90 

days of receipt of a petition to list a species as threatened or 

endangered, the Secretary of Commerce make a finding on whether that 

petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information 

indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted, and to promptly 

publish such finding in the Federal Register (16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(3)(A)). 

When it is found that substantial scientific or commercial information 

in a petition indicates the petitioned action may be warranted (a 

``positive 90-day finding''), we are required to promptly commence a 

review of the status of the species concerned during which we will 

conduct a comprehensive review of the best available scientific and 

commercial information. In such cases, we conclude the status review 

with a finding published in the Federal Register as to whether or not 

the petitioned action is warranted within 12 months of receipt of the 

petition. Because the finding at the 12-month stage is based on a 

thorough review of the available information, as compared to the more 

limited scope of review at the 90-day stage, a ``may be warranted'' 

finding does not prejudge the outcome of the status review.

    Under the ESA, a listing determination may address a species, which 

is defined to also include any subspecies and, for vertebrate species, 

any DPS which interbreeds when mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). A joint 

NMFS-U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) (jointly, ``the Services'') 

policy clarifies the agencies' interpretation of the phrase ``distinct 

population segment'' for the purposes of listing, delisting, and 

reclassifying a species under the ESA (61 FR 4722; February 7, 1996). A 

species, subspecies, or DPS is ``endangered'' if it is in danger of 

extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and 

``threatened'' if it is likely to become endangered within the 

foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range 

(16 U.S.C. 1532(6) and (20)). Pursuant to the ESA and our implementing 

regulations, we determine whether species are threatened or endangered 

based on any one or a combination of the following factors: (1) The 

present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its 

habitat or range; (2) overutilization for commercial, recreational, 

scientific, or educational purposes; (3) disease or predation; (4) the 

inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and (5) any other natural 

or manmade factors affecting the species' continued existence (16 

U.S.C. 1533(a)(1), 50 CFR 424.11(c)).

    ESA implementing regulations define ``substantial information'' in 

the context of reviewing a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a 

species as the amount of information that would lead a reasonable 

person to believe that the measure proposed in the petition may be 

warranted (50 CFR 424.14(b)). In evaluating whether substantial 

information is contained in a petition, the Secretary must consider 

whether the petition: (1) Clearly indicates the administrative measure 

recommended and gives the scientific and any common name of the species involved; 

(2) contains detailed narrative justification for the recommended 

measure, describing, based on available information, past and present 

numbers and distribution of the species involved and any threats faced 

by the species; (3) provides information regarding the status of the 

species over all or a significant portion of its range; and (4) is 

accompanied by the appropriate supporting documentation in the form of 

bibliographic references, reprints of pertinent publications, copies of 

reports or letters from authorities, and maps (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)).

    Judicial decisions have clarified the appropriate scope and 

limitations of the Services' review of petitions at the 90-day finding 

stage, in making a determination that a petitioned action ``may be'' 

warranted. As a general matter, these decisions hold that a petition 

need not establish a ``strong likelihood'' or a ``high probability'' 

that a species is either threatened or endangered to support a positive 

90-day finding.

    We evaluate the petitioners' request based upon the information in 

the petition including its references and the information readily 

available in our files. We do not conduct additional research and we do 

not solicit information from parties outside the agency to help us in 

evaluating the petition. We will accept the petitioners' sources and 

characterizations of the information presented if they appear to be 

based on accepted scientific principles, unless we have specific 

information in our files indicating the petition's information is 

incorrect, unreliable, obsolete, or otherwise irrelevant to the 

requested action. Information that is susceptible to more than one 

interpretation or that is contradicted by other available information 

will not be dismissed at the 90-day finding stage, so long as it is 

reliable and a reasonable person would conclude it supports the 

petitioners' assertions. In other words, conclusive information 

indicating the species may meet the ESA's requirements for listing is 

not required to make a positive 90-day finding. We will not conclude 

that a lack of specific information negates a positive 90-day finding 

if a reasonable person would conclude that the uncertainty from the 

lack of information suggests an extinction risk of concern for the 

species at issue.

    To make a 90-day finding on a petition to list a species, we 

evaluate whether the petition presents substantial scientific or 

commercial information indicating the subject species may be either 

threatened or endangered, as defined by the ESA. First, we evaluate 

whether the information presented in the petition, along with the 

information readily available in our files, indicates that the 

petitioned entity constitutes a ``species'' eligible for listing under 

the ESA. Next, we evaluate whether the information indicates that the 

species faces an extinction risk that is cause for concern; this may be 

indicated in information expressly discussing the species' status and 

trends, or in information describing impacts and threats to the 

species. We evaluate any information on specific demographic factors 

pertinent to evaluating extinction risk for the species (e.g., 

population abundance and trends, productivity, spatial structure, age 

structure, sex ratio, diversity, current and historical range, habitat 

integrity or fragmentation), and the potential contribution of 

identified demographic risks to extinction risk for the species. We 

then evaluate the potential links between these demographic risks and 

the causative impacts and threats identified in section 4(a)(1).

    Information presented on impacts or threats should be specific to 

the species and should reasonably suggest that one or more of these 

factors may be operative threats that act or have acted on the species 

to the point that it may warrant protection under the ESA. Broad 

statements about generalized threats to the species, or identification 

of factors that could negatively impact a species, do not constitute 

substantial information indicating that listing may be warranted. We 

look for information indicating that not only is the particular species 

exposed to a factor, but that the species may be responding in a 

negative fashion; then we assess the potential significance of that 

negative response.

    Many petitions identify risk classifications made by non-

governmental organizations, such as the International Union on the 

Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the American Fisheries Society, or 

NatureServe, as evidence of extinction risk for a species. Risk 

classifications by other organizations or made under other Federal or 

state statutes may be informative, but the classification alone does 

not provide the rationale for a positive 90-day finding under the ESA. 

For example, as explained by NatureServe, their assessments of a 

species' conservation status do ``not constitute a recommendation by 

NatureServe for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act'' because 

NatureServe assessments ``have different criteria, evidence 

requirements, purposes and taxonomic coverage than government lists of 

endangered and threatened species, and therefore these two types of 

lists should not be expected to coincide'' (http://www.natureserve.org/prodServices/statusAssessment.jsp). Thus, when a petition cites such 

classifications, we will evaluate the source of information that the 

classification is based upon in light of the standards on extinction 

risk and impacts or threats discussed above.

Distribution and Life History of the Great White Shark

    The great white shark (also known as ``white shark'') is a 

circumglobal species that resides primarily in temperate and sub-

tropical waters (Compagno et al., 1997; Domeier and Nasby-Lucas, 2006; 

Domeier et al., 2012). White sharks commonly inhabit coastal and 

continental shelf waters, although they have been observed entering 

marine bays, estuaries, lagoons, and harbors (Compagno et al., 1997). 

Recent studies suggest that these sharks also spend considerable amount 

of time in open ocean habitats thousands of kilometers from shore 

(Domeier, 2012). Areas likely to attract adult white sharks include 

coastal waters adjacent to pinniped colonies or haulout sites, as these 

are favored prey species (Klimley et al., 1996; Hussey et al., 2012). 

Known prey of white sharks also includes a wide range of other species 

from smaller demersal fish, such as rockfish, to giant pelagic species, 

such as tuna and swordfish, as well as sea turtles, seabirds, 

cetaceans, and other species of sharks (Fergusson, 1996; Long and 

Jones, 1996; Wilson and Patyten, 2008; IUCN, 2009; Santana-Morales et 

al., 2012). White sharks are recognized as apex predators throughout 

the oceanic and coastal marine environments where they occur, and may 

play an important role in ecosystem balance and population control for 

a number of other marine species (Myers et al., 2007; Wilson and 

Patyten, 2008). White sharks demonstrate the ability to undertake 

transoceanic migrations to specific locations in patterns that appear 

to be predictable (Boustany et al., 2002; Jorgensen et al., 2010; 

Chapple et al., 2011; Domeier, 2012).

    Great white sharks are distinguished by their stout spindle-shaped 

body, moderately long and bluntly conical snout, five long gill slits, 

large falcate first dorsal fin with free rear tip located over the 

pectoral inner margins, pivoting second dorsal and anal fins, white 

ventral body color, and lack of any secondary keels on the base of the 

caudal fin. The teeth are large, flat, and triangular shaped, with 

blade-like serrations, although teeth in the rear of the mouth get progressively smaller and sometimes lack serration, 

especially in younger sharks (Compagno et al., 1997; FAO, 2012). The 

maximum size of this species has not been established, but has been 

estimated at about 6 m (19 ft), and possibly up to 6.4 m (21 ft), or 

more (Cailliet et al., 1985; Wilson and Patyten, 2008; IUCN, 2009). 

Estimated weight of the largest individuals is nearly 3,000 kg (6,600 

lbs) (Cailliet et al., 1985; Anderson et al., 2011).

    Available information on the general life history pattern of white 

sharks suggests that females mature at about 12-14 years of age, and 

about 4-5 m (13-16 ft) in length. Males mature at 9-10 years old, and 

about 3.5-4.1 m (11.5-13.5 ft) in length (Compagno et al., 1997). It is 

believed that females give birth at 2 or 3-year intervals to litters of 

2-10 pups that are 1-1.5 m (3.3-4.9 ft) in length after a 12-22 month 

gestation (Francis, 1996; Wilson and Patyten, 2008; Domeier, 2012). 

Embryos are oophagus, meaning they consume and store yolk in their 

stomachs (Francis, 1996; Uchida et al., 1996), and viviparous (live) 

birth of pups likely occurs sometime between May and October (Domeier, 

2012). Specific knowledge of pup survival rates is not available, but 

is estimated to be low (CITES, 2004).

    Primary concentrations of white sharks occur in South Africa, 

Australia and New Zealand, and the northeastern Pacific Ocean, with 

other white sharks observed in the north Atlantic and the Mediterranean 

(Boustany et al., 2002; Domeier and Nasby-Lucas, 2006; Weng et al., 

2007; Jorgensen et al., 2010). Genetic and migration studies provide 

evidence that these may represent separate populations (Jorgensen et 

al., 2010). Mitochondrial DNA suggests at least three matrilineal 

populations: South Africa/northwest Atlantic; southwest Pacific; and 

northeastern Pacific (Gubili et al., 2012). Although the southwestern 

Pacific and northeastern Pacific populations could potentially 

interbreed, the genetic sampling indicates that these two populations 

are largely reproductively isolated. It has been suggested that the 

northeastern Pacific population was founded by relatively few sharks 

within the last 200,000 years, and hasn't mixed with other shark 

populations near Australia or South Africa since (Hance, 2009; 

Jorgensen et al., 2010).

    White sharks in the northeastern Pacific Ocean have been observed 

from Baja California to the Bering Sea (Kato, 1965; COSEWIC, 2006) and 

offshore out to Hawaii. Using satellite and acoustic telemetry, 

researchers have followed movements of white sharks in the northeastern 

Pacific Ocean and discovered patterns of site fidelity and repeated 

homing in structured seasonal migrations, including fixed destinations, 

schedules, and routes (Boustany et al., 2002; Jorgensen et al., 2010). 

As a result, three core areas have been identified in the central and 

northeastern Pacific: (1) North American shelf waters; (2) slope and 

offshore waters of Hawaii; and (3) an area between the North American 

coast and Hawaii termed the ``white shark caf[eacute]'' or Shared 

Offshore Foraging Area (SOFA) (Jorgensen et al., 2010; Anderson et al., 

2011; Domeier, 2012). Each winter, great white sharks leave coastal 

aggregation sites off of central California (Farallon Islands/

A[ntilde]o Nuevo/Point Reyes) and migrate 2000-5000 km offshore to 

subtropical and tropical pelagic habitats, returning to coastal 

aggregation sites in late summer. Site fidelity in North American 

coastal hotspots has also been documented using photo-identification 

(Jorgensen et al., 2010; Chapple et al., 2011; Sosa-Nishizaki et al., 

2012). Guadalupe Island, located 250 miles off the coast of Baja 

California, Mexico, is also a preferred aggregation site for adults 

(Sosa-Nishizaki et al., 2012). Adult males annually migrate from 

preferred aggregation sites to the SOFA/white shark caf[eacute]. 

Females have been observed to migrate biennially between preferred 

aggregation sites and the area surrounding the SOFA/white shark 

caf[eacute], usually after males have returned to coastal aggregation 

sites (Domeier, 2012).

    The coastal areas of southern California and Baja California, 

Mexico, appear to be important nursery areas hosting large 

concentrations of young-of-the-year (YOY) and juvenile great white 

sharks (Dewar et al. 2004; Weng et al., 2007; Galv[aacute]n-

Maga[ntilde]a et al., 2011; Domeier, 2012; Santana-Morales et al., 

2012). Information gained from the records of white shark bycatch in 

California and Baja fisheries, including gillnet, seine-net, and hook 

and line fisheries (Lowe et al., 2012; Santana-Morales et al., 2012), 

along with relatively consistent reporting of juvenile white shark 

observations along the southern California coast, lend support to the 

assertion that this area is important developmental habitat for white 

sharks before they mature into larger adults. Estimates of abundance 

have not been available historically, but recent studies have suggested 

the population size at two known aggregation sites (Farallon Islands/

Central California and Guadalupe Island) in the northeastern Pacific 

Ocean is around 340 sub-adults and adults (Chapple et al., 2011; Sosa-

Nishizaki et al., 2012).

Analysis of the Petitions and Information Readily Available in NMFS Files

The two petitions request the same action, to list the northeastern 

Pacific Ocean (NEP) DPS of great white shark (or white shark) as 

endangered or threatened under the ESA and to designate critical 

habitat for the DPS. Therefore, we evaluated the information provided 

in both petitions and readily available in our files to determine if 

the petitions presented substantial scientific or commercial 

information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. 

Both petitions contain information on the species, including the 

taxonomy, species description, geographic distribution, habitat, 

population status and trends, and factors contributing to the species' 

decline. Both petitions state that a primary threat to the NEP 

population of white shark is exploitation by fishing (historical and 

current) and bycatch in fisheries. Both petitions also assert that the 

lack of adequate regulatory protection worldwide, bioaccumulation of 

contaminants, and habitat degradation, as well as the species' 

biological constraints, increase the susceptibility of the NEP 

population of white shark to extinction.

    According to both petitions, the NEP population of white shark 

qualifies as a DPS because the NEP population is both discrete and 

significant, as defined under the Services' DPS policy (61 FR 4722; 

February 7, 1996). The WildEarth Guardians petition asserts that all of 

the five causal factors in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA are adversely 

affecting the continued existence of the NEP population, whereas the 

Oceana et al. petition does not discuss disease and predation as a 

factor that is adversely affecting the NEP population. In the following 

sections, we analyze the information presented by the petitions and in 

our files on the qualification of the NEP population of white shark as 

a DPS and the specific ESA section 4(a)(1) factors affecting the 

population's risk of extinction.

 

Qualification of Northeastern Pacific Ocean Population as a DPS

 

    Both petitions assert that the NEP population of white shark 

qualifies as a DPS, because it is both a discrete and significant 

population segment of the species, as defined in the NMFS and USFWS 

policy on DPSs (61 FR 4722; February 7, 1996). First, the petitions 

state that the NEP population is discrete based on both genetic and 

spatial separation from other populations of white shark. Genetic analyses 

indicate that the NEP population of white sharks is similar to and 

descended from the Australian/New Zealand (ANZ) population (Jorgensen 

et al., 2010; Gubili et al., 2012). The NEP population was likely 

established during the Late Pleistocene, from a limited number of 

founders from the ANZ population, but has since had little gene flow 

with the ANZ population (Jorgensen et al., 2010). Thus, although the 

two populations can interbreed, they are thought to be largely 

reproductively isolated (Jorgensen et al., 2010).

    In addition to genetic separation, the NEP population is 

geographically separated from other populations, adheres to predictable 

seasonal migratory routes, and exhibits strong site fidelity within the 

NEP. As discussed above, white sharks in the NEP population range from 

Baja California to the Bering Sea, and out to Hawaii. Tagged white 

sharks from the NEP population consistently used three core areas 

within the northeastern and central Pacific ocean: (a) The coastal 

shelf waters of North America (primarily from central California to 

Baja California); (b) the slope and offshore waters of the Hawaiian 

archipelago; and (c) offshore waters between California and Hawaii, 

including an offshore habitat approximately halfway between California 

and Hawaii referred to as the SOFA/white shark caf[eacute], used 

primarily by adults (Boustany et al., 2002; Jorgensen et al., 2010; 

Domeier, 2012). The individuals followed seasonal migratory patterns, 

generally moving offshore starting in winter and returning to the 

California and Baja California coast in the late summer (Jorgensen et 

al., 2010; Domeier, 2012). Tagged individuals from the NEP population 

did not show any straying or spatial overlap with the ANZ population 

(Jorgensen et al., 2010). YOY and juvenile white sharks also stay 

within the geographic boundaries of the NEP population, likely using 

nearshore, shallow waters of the Southern California Bight and Baja 

California as nursery habitats, with adults likely aggregating at sites 

off central California and at Guadalupe Island (off Baja California) to 

mate (Domeier, 2012). Thus, the available information on migratory 

behavior and habitat use indicates that the NEP population is 

geographically separated from other white shark populations.

    Second, the petitions state that the NEP population is discrete 

because of international governmental boundaries within which 

differences in control of exploitation, management of habitat, 

conservation status, or regulatory mechanisms exist that are 

significant in light of section 4(a)(1)(D) of the ESA (i.e., the 

inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms as a factor to consider in 

determining whether a species is endangered or threatened). The 

petitions state that a large portion of the NEP population's habitat is 

within U.S. waters, highlighting the importance of U.S. protections for 

the species. The petitions also argue that the NEP population is 

discrete because it ranges internationally into waters with differing 

management regimes, particularly when occupying offshore habitats and 

visiting aggregation sites off Baja California, where it may be subject 

to exploitation by non-U.S. entities. However, the Services' DPS policy 

states that a population may be considered discrete if it is separated 

from other populations by international boundaries within which 

significant differences in regulatory mechanisms exist. That the NEP 

population crosses these international boundaries actually argues 

against considering this population as discrete from other white shark 

populations. Thus, the NEP population is not considered discrete based 

on this factor. Nevertheless, the information available in the 

petitions and in our files provides evidence suggesting the NEP 

population may be discrete based on both genetic and spatial separation 

from other populations.

    Both petitions make the case that the NEP population is significant 

to the taxon. As described above, the NEP population does not appear to 

overlap spatially with other populations (Jorgensen et al., 2010; 

Domeier, 2012; Gubili et al., 2012). The petitions reason that loss of 

this population would result in a significant gap in the range of the 

species because it is unlikely, given the geographic separation of the 

NEP population from other populations, that sharks from other 

populations would expand their distribution into the NEP's current 

habitats. The petitions also state that the NEP population is 

genetically differentiated from other white shark populations, as 

described above. In addition, the Oceana et al. petition contends that 

the NEP population occupies an ecological setting that is unique to 

this species, because they are the only population to occupy coastal 

waters off California and the SOFA. Overall, the information available 

in the petitions and in our files suggests that the NEP population of 

white shark may be significant to the species. The Oceana et al. 

petition also argues that great white sharks play an important 

ecological role that is essential for the health of the NEP ecosystem, 

as a top predator that regulates prey populations (e.g., fish, other 

sharks, and pinnipeds). We do not comment on the merit of this 

statement, but note that in determining whether a discrete population 

segment is significant, the NMFS and USFWS policy focuses on the 

biological and ecological significance of the population segment to the 

taxon, not to the ecosystem.

    Based on the above analysis, we conclude that the information in 

the two petitions and in our files suggests that the NEP population of 

white shark may qualify as a DPS under the discreteness and 

significance requirements.

The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of the Species' Habitat or Range

Both petitions assert that habitat degradation, largely associated 

with increasing human activity, poses a threat to the NEP population of 

white shark, although the two petitions focus on different sources of 

habitat degradation. The Oceana et al. petition briefly mentions that 

pollutant discharge can degrade coastal aggregation and nursery 

habitats, whereas the WildEarth Guardians petition goes into more 

detail on this potential threat. The WildEarth Guardians petition cites 

urban stormwater runoff and point source discharge as important sources 

of pollutants (e.g., pesticides, fertilizers, trace metals, synthetic 

organic compounds, petroleum, and pathogens) into the Southern 

California Bight (DiGiacomo et al., 2004). The petition states that 

these pollutants threaten predators like white sharks, primarily 

through effects on their prey. For example, historical discharges of 

organochlorines, such as DDT and PCBs, into the Southern California 

Bight have resulted in high levels of these contaminants in local 

populations of pinnipeds (Blasius and Goodmanlowe, 2008), one of the 

prey resources for white sharks. Both petitions cite a recent finding 

that young white sharks sampled off California have high levels of 

mercury, DDT, PCBs, and chlordanes that could result in physiological 

impairment (Mull et al., 2012). The WildEarth Guardians petition 

briefly states that water quality in areas off Mexico where the NEP 

population occurs may also be affected by contaminants (Parks Watch, 

2004).

    The WildEarth Guardians petition also suggests that the 

concentration of marine debris in the North Pacific Gyre (the ``Great 

Pacific Garbage Patch'') mayhave deleterious effects on offshore habitats, including the SOFA. The 

main concern expressed in the petition is the concentration of plastic 

of various sizes in the ``Garbage Patch'' (Algalita, 2009) which could 

be ingested by white sharks in the area either directly or ingested by 

their prey. The petition also suggests that accumulation of persistent 

organic pollutants on the plastic (Algalita, 2009) may pose another 

threat to the health of white sharks. We note, however, that it appears 

to be unclear exactly what the adults (primarily males) are preying on 

in the SOFA (Jorgensen et al., 2010; Domeier, 2012) because the area is 

devoid of the small marine mammals typically preyed upon by adult white 

sharks (Domeier, 2012). Adults in the SOFA may be feeding on squid or 

other species that target squid (Domeier, 2012). Without specific 

information about the extent to which adults in the SOFA are feeding 

and what they are feeding on, it is difficult to evaluate the potential 

effects of plastic marine debris on the NEP population's feeding 

habitat and prey resources.

    The Oceana et al. petition focuses on two sources of habitat 

degradation: (1) Decreased prey resources due to human exploitation; 

and (2) the effects of ocean acidification on the California Current 

ecosystem. The WildEarth Guardians petition briefly mentions that 

fisheries activities in coastal areas may deplete important prey 

resources for the NEP population (CITES, 2004). The Oceana et al. 

petition provides more detail, stating that human exploitation depleted 

populations of pinnipeds, an important prey resource for adult white 

sharks. The petition contends that although pinniped populations are 

currently increasing, they were depleted for a long period of time and 

remain below historical levels. We note that the most recent stock 

assessments estimate that harbor seals may be at carrying capacity 

(NMFS, 2011a) and that northern elephant seals have almost reached 

their carrying capacity for pups per year (NMFS, 2007). Population 

trends have generally been increasing since the 1980s or earlier for 

harbor seals, California sea lions, and northern elephant seals in 

California (NMFS, 2007; 2011a; 2011b). Thus, although these prey 

resources may have been limited in the past when pinniped populations 

were at historical lows, the populations have been increasing over the 

last 30 years or more and may not currently be limiting. For example, 

an increased frequency of observed shark attacks on prey off the South 

Farallon Islands from 1983 to 1993 indicated a potential increase in 

the white shark population at the islands, which may be explained by 

increased recruitment of younger white sharks supported by the increase 

and stabilization of pinniped prey resources over the 1970s and 1980s 

(Pyle et al., 1996). Further analysis is needed to evaluate what effect 

changes in pinniped populations have had on the status of white shark 

populations over time. The petition also states that there have been 

and continue to be major commercial fisheries for most of the other 

prey resources supporting various life stages of white sharks (e.g., 

fish species, crustaceans, cephalopods; Klimley, 1985; Ellis and 

McCosker, 1995). Again, further analysis is needed to specifically 

evaluate the impacts of these fisheries on prey resources for white 

sharks.

    The Oceana et al. petition also contends that the effects of ocean 

acidification could have negative impacts on the marine food web within 

the California Current ecosystem, including on the NEP population of 

white shark. The petition cites a model simulation study which predicts 

that by 2050, the oceanic uptake of increased atmospheric 

CO2 will lower the pH and the saturation state of aragonite 

(a mineral form of calcium carbonate, used by calcifying organisms) in 

nearshore waters of the California Current system to levels well below 

the natural range for this area (Gruber et al., 2012). The petition 

states that these effects of ocean acidification will have negative 

impacts on fish species, referencing recent studies showing that high 

CO2 and low pH levels impair olfactory responses and homing 

ability in clownfish (Munday et al., 2009) and can lead to cardiac 

failure in some fish species (Ishimatsu et al., 2004). The petition 

readily admits, however, that the severity of effects on specific 

species is uncertain. Some fish species may experience metabolic 

responses to elevated CO2 levels at the cellular level, but 

are able to compensate for those responses at the whole animal level, 

making them less sensitive to the effects of ocean acidification 

(Portner, 2008). In addition, extrapolating specific effects at the 

species levels to the overall ecosystem (e.g., effects on prey 

availability and predator-prey interactions for top predators like 

white sharks) is highly uncertain. The petition also states that ocean 

acidification can potentially affect marine mammals and other marine 

life by reducing the sound absorption of seawater and allowing sound to 

travel further (Hester et al., 2008). However, the petition does not 

explain what the potential effects on marine mammals and other marine 

life may be or how any such effects relate to the degradation of white 

shark habitat (e.g., the availability or abundance of prey resources). 

The available information is not sufficient to determine if ocean 

acidification may be threatening the habitat of the NEP population of 

white shark such that listing may be warranted.

    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 NEP 

population of white shark. Human exploitation may have impacted prey 

resources (e.g., pinnipeds and fish and invertebrate species) in the 

past; however, further analyses are needed to evaluate the recent and 

current impacts on prey resources. In addition, the information 

provided on the effects of marine debris in the North Pacific Gyre or 

ocean acidification is insufficient to evaluate whether these factors 

may be threatening the habitat of the NEP population of white shark 

such that listing may be warranted.

Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or Educational Purposes

Information from both petitions suggests that a primary threat to 

the NEP population of white shark is from fisheries. The petitions cite 

information on the effects of fisheries on white sharks worldwide and 

within the NEP. White sharks are harvested in targeted fisheries and as 

bycatch and are highly prized for their teeth, jaws, and fins. White 

sharks are primarily caught incidentally in commercial fisheries using 

longlines, setlines, gillnets, trawls, fish traps, and other gear 

(Compagno, 2001; Fowler et al., 2005; Lowe et al., 2012; Santana-

Morales et al., 2012). The curious nature of white sharks makes them 

more vulnerable to incidental capture, and their high value and 

negative reputation may contribute to the killing of incidentally 

caught individuals rather than being released alive (Fowler et al., 

2005). CITES (2004a) estimated that low to mid hundreds of white sharks 

are killed annually as bycatch within each major region of the species' 

range. Targeted sport and commercial fisheries for white sharks also 

exist worldwide. Targeted sports fisheries may either kill or release 

sharks alive, but post-release mortality is unknown. It is estimated 

that tens to low hundreds of white sharks are killed in sports 

fisheries worldwide each year (CITES, 2004). Targeted commercial 

fisheries for white sharks are thought to be uncommon and opportunistic 

when aggregations are found, but the species' site fidelity and tendency to 

aggregate in predictable areas make it vulnerable to over-exploitation 

(CITES, 2004). Targeted commercial fisheries worldwide may also kill 

tens to low hundreds of white sharks each year (CITES, 2004).

    In the NEP Ocean, there is little commercial fishing activity in 

the SOFA, providing a potential refuge from incidental capture for 

individuals when they occupy this offshore area (Domeier, 2012). 

However, the lack of international laws to protect great white sharks 

in international waters is a potential threat to the species (Domeier, 

2012; discussed further under ``Inadequacy of existing regulatory 

mechanisms''). White sharks are most vulnerable to fisheries capture 

when occupying nearshore aggregation or nursery habitats, especially 

YOY and juvenile stages (Domeier, 2012). Off California, there have 

been no directed fisheries for white sharks, but incidental and 

targeted catch has occurred (Lowe et al., 2012). An analysis of 

fishery-dependent catch records for the Southern California Bight from 

1936 to 2009 found that the majority of the reported white shark 

captures (where size was indicated) were of YOY sharks (60 percent), 

followed by juveniles (32 percent) and subadults/adults (8 percent); 

however, the proportion of YOY sharks in the reported catch increased 

to 77 percent after the nearshore gillnet ban was implemented in 1994 

(Lowe et al., 2012). Commercial entangling nets (81 percent) and 

recreational hook-and-line fishing (8 percent) accounted for the 

majority of the reported white shark captures (Lowe et al., 2012). The 

number of reported white shark captures in commercial entangling nets 

has been 20 or less from 1985 through 2009, except in 1985 when 25 

captures were reported (Lowe et al., 2012). The analysis suggests that 

the effects of incidental capture in gillnet fisheries off California 

have decreased compared to historical effects. As gillnet fishing 

effort decreased from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, so did reports of 

white shark captures (Lowe et al., 2012). However, although gillnet 

fishing effort remained stable or decreased from the mid-1990s through 

2009, reports of white shark captures increased from 2005 through 2009 

(Lowe et al., 2012). Increases in the number of reported captures in 

the gillnet fisheries since 2005, despite stable or decreased effort, 

may be the result of increased reporting of captures and/or an increase 

in the abundance of white sharks due to the nearshore gillnet ban and 

changes in offshore gillnet regulations (Lowe et al., 2012). Also, data 

from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Juvenile White Shark Tagging Program 

indicate that YOY and juvenile white sharks have relatively high post-

release survival after being caught in gillnet gear (Lowe et al., 

2012).

    Incidental catch of white sharks also continues to occur off Baja 

California. Incidental catch of 111 great white sharks was reported 

from 1999 through 2010, consisting of YOY (79.8 percent) and juvenile 

(20.2 percent) sharks (Santana-Morales et al., 2012). Incidental catch 

primarily occurred in bottom gillnet gear (74.7 percent), but also in 

drift gillnet (18 percent) and artisanal seine net (4.5 percent) gear 

(Santana-Morales et al., 2012).

    The petitions assert that the continued incidental catch of white 

sharks poses a threat to the species, because the removal of just a few 

individuals could have a substantive effect on the local population 

(Pyle et al., 1996; Chapple, 2011). The petitions also highlight the 

high value of white shark teeth, jaws, and fins as trophies, curios, 

and food, stating that this provides a strong monetary incentive to 

capture and keep white sharks (Clarke, 2004; Shivji et al., 2005; 

Clarke et al., 2006).

    We conclude that the petitions and information in our files present 

evidence that fisheries impacts continue to affect white shark 

populations worldwide and in the NEP, primarily due to incidental 

capture in fisheries and the potential for the high value of great 

white shark teeth, jaws, and fins to promote keeping incidentally 

caught individuals rather than releasing them back into the water. This 

information suggests that fisheries impacts may be affecting the 

continued existence of the NEP population of white shark. To further 

evaluate these effects, more information is needed on fisheries impacts 

specifically within the range of the NEP population, particularly on 

the capture of white sharks in fisheries in offshore waters and the 

lethal and sublethal effects of catch and release.

 

Disease or Predation

 

    The WildEarth Guardians petition asserts that the addition of 

mercury, organochlorine contaminants, and other pollutants to the ocean 

and the effects of these pollutants on the NEP population of white 

sharks may be categorized as disease. The petition does not provide any 

additional information to support that disease is a factor affecting 

the NEP population's continued existence such that listing may be 

warranted. Thus, the available information is insufficient to evaluate 

if disease may be affecting the continued existence of the NEP 

population of white shark. The petition more appropriately discusses 

pollutants and their effects on the NEP population under the habitat 

degradation and ``other natural or manmade'' factors.

 

Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

 

    The petitions assert that the inadequacy of existing Federal, 

state, or international regulatory mechanisms require that the NEP 

population of white shark be listed under the ESA. The petitions 

contend that although Federal, state, and international regulations 

exist to protect white sharks from targeted capture in some areas, 

these regulations are insufficient because white sharks in the NEP 

population are still vulnerable to incidental capture throughout its 

range, and to exploitation when in international waters. In addition, 

the WildEarth Guardians petition states that existing regulations do 

not protect the NEP population's habitat and health from threats such 

as habitat degradation, pollution, and overfishing of prey resources.

    Within the United States, Federal and state regulations to protect 

white sharks vary. Currently, the retention of white sharks in U.S. 

Federal waters in the Pacific Ocean is prohibited under the Highly 

Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan. In California, targeted 

capture of white sharks is prohibited, but incidentally caught white 

sharks may be retained under a permit from the California Department of 

Fish and Game for scientific or educational purposes (14 CCR Sec.  

28.06). In Oregon, all white sharks must be released immediately if 

caught (ODFW, 2012). Washington and Hawaii do not have specific 

fisheries regulations for white shark. However, both Hawaii and 

California passed bans making it unlawful to possess, sell, offer for 

sale, trade, or distribute shark fins, which may provide some 

protection for white sharks. The petitions argue that despite these 

protections, the continued incidental capture and mortality of even 

small numbers of white sharks in U.S. waters, particularly off 

California, can have a large impact on the local population, citing a 

study off the Farallon Islands in which the removal of four white 

sharks from the area in 1982 resulted in significantly fewer sightings 

of shark attacks on pinnipeds than expected in 1983 to 1985 (Pyle et 

al., 1996). The petitions also suggest that illegal fishing may be a 

problem in the United States, citing cases of illegal fishing and sale of white shark teeth, jaws, and fins in 2003 (CITES, 

2004).

    Outside of the United States, protections for white sharks also 

vary. In Mexico, catch and retention of white sharks and the landing of 

shark fins without carcasses has been banned since 2006 (Lack and Sant, 

2011), although incidental capture continues to occur (Galv[aacute]n-

Maga[ntilde]a et al., 2010; Santana-Morales et al., 2012). In Canada, 

there are no specific regulations to protect white sharks, although a 

ban on shark finning may provide some protection (DFO, 2007). In 

international waters, white sharks are protected under CITES (Appendix 

II) and other international agreements, including the Convention on 

Migratory Species (Appendix I and II) and the United Nations Convention 

on the Law of the Sea. However, the petitions contend that these 

protections are not sufficient, given continued trade in white shark 

products due to poaching and variable enforcement of regulations 

(CITES, 2004; Clarke, 2004; Shivji et al., 2005; Clarke et al., 2006; 

Galv[aacute]n-Maga[ntilde]a et al., 2010; Jorgensen et al., 2010; 

Viegas, 2011).

    Based on the information in the petition and in our files as 

discussed above, we conclude that existing regulatory mechanisms may be 

inadequate to address threats to the NEP population of white shark. To 

further evaluate the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, more 

information is needed regarding the level of illegal fishing and 

poaching in U.S. and international waters.

 

Other Natural or Manmade Factors

 

    The two petitions assert that other natural or manmade factors may 

be affecting the survival and recovery of the NEP population of white 

shark, including contaminant loads, negative press, life history 

factors, small population size, and the synergistic effects of all of 

the threats facing the population. Both petitions cite a study 

conducted in the Southern California Bight revealing mercury and 

organochlorines (e.g., DDT, PCBs, and chlordanes) in the tissues of 

juvenile white sharks at levels that may result in physiological 

impairment (Mull et al., 2012). Young white sharks are likely 

bioaccumulating these contaminants (likely from historical discharges 

in the Southern California Bight) when feeding on prey resources in the 

area (Blasius and Goodmanlowe, 2008; Mull et al., 2012). The WildEarth 

Guardian petition also cites negative media attention as a threat to 

white sharks, especially when shark attacks on humans occur, because 

this generates general paranoia and encourages targeting of the species 

for sport or trophy hunting (IUCN, 2009).

    The WildEarth Guardians petition asserts that natural factors, 

including the species' life history characteristics and small 

population size, also increase the extinction risk of the NEP 

population of white shark, particularly when considered in combination 

with other threats to the species. The petition states that the 

species' life history characteristics (e.g., slow growth, late 

maturation, long-life, long generation time, small litter size, and low 

reproductive capacity) make it susceptible to extinction when faced 

with population declines and continuing threats (Withgott and Brennan, 

2007). The petition also contends that the small estimated population 

size (e.g., approximately 340 subadults and adults in the NEP 

population; Chapple et al., 2011; Sosa-Nishizaki et al., 2012) makes 

the population highly susceptible to extinction due to a stochastic 

event (Brook et al., 2008). We note, however, that this estimate of 

abundance is based on studies of individuals surveyed in aggregation 

sites off central California and Guadalupe Island, and do not include 

YOY and juveniles. Also, without information on the historical 

abundance of the NEP population, it is difficult to assess what this 

estimated population size means for the persistence of the population. 

The low estimated abundance of the population may be the result of 

anthropogenic pressures on the population or a naturally low carrying 

capacity (the NEP population is thought to have been established by a 

limited number of founders from the ANZ population; Jorgensen et al., 

2010) (Chapple et al., 2011). Catch ratios of white sharks to all shark 

species off the U.S. west coast from 1965 (1:67) to 1983 (1:210) 

suggest a potential decline in abundance (Casey and Pratt, 1985, cited 

in Fowler et al., 2005). However, recent increases in the incidental 

capture of white sharks in gillnet fisheries off California, despite 

stable or decreasing fishing effort, suggest that the population may be 

increasing (Lowe et al., 2012). In addition, an increased frequency of 

observed white shark attacks on pinnipeds off the South Farallon 

Islands over time indicates an increase in the shark population at the 

islands (Pyle et al., 1996; Pyle et al., 2003). Thus, it is difficult 

at this time to determine population trends and to evaluate how the 

estimated size of the NEP population relates to the population's 

extinction risk.

    Overall, the petition and information in our files suggest that 

effects from bioaccumulation of contaminants and negative media 

attention, coupled with the life history characteristics of white 

sharks, may be affecting the survival and recovery of the NEP 

population. More specific information is needed, however, to assess 

population trends and to evaluate the population's estimated abundance 

in terms of the potential effects on the population's survival and 

recovery.

 

Summary of Section 4(a)(1) Factors

 

    We conclude that the petition presents substantial scientific or 

commercial information indicating that multiple section 4(a)(1) 

factors, as discussed above, may be causing or contributing to an 

increased risk of extinction for the NEP population of white shark.

 

Petition Finding

 

    After reviewing the information contained in both petitions, as 

well as information readily available in our files, we conclude the 

petitions present substantial scientific information indicating the 

petitioned action of listing the NEP population of white shark as a 

threatened or endangered DPS may be warranted. Therefore, in accordance 

with section 4(b)(3)(A) of the ESA and NMFS' implementing regulations 

(50 CFR 424.14(b)(3)), we will commence a status review of the species. 

During the status review, we will determine whether the population 

identified by the petitioners meets the DPS policy's criteria, and if 

so, whether the population is in danger of extinction (endangered) or 

likely to become so within the foreseeable future (threatened) 

throughout all or a significant portion of its range. We now initiate 

this review, and thus, the northeastern Pacific Ocean population of 

white shark is considered to be a candidate species (50 CFR 424.15(b)). 

Within 12 months of the receipt of the WildEarth Guardians petition 

(June 25, 2013), we will make a finding as to whether listing the 

species as endangered or threatened is warranted as required by section 

4(b)(3)(B) of the ESA. If listing the species is warranted, we will 

publish a proposed rule and solicit public comments before developing 

and publishing a final rule.

 

Information Solicited

 

    To ensure that the status review is based on the best available 

scientific and commercial data, we are soliciting information relevant 

to whether the NEP Ocean population of white sharks is a DPS and 

whether it is threatened or endangered. Specifically, we are soliciting 

published and unpublished information in the following areas: (1) Population structure 

information in the Pacific Ocean, such as genetics data; particularly 

any unpublished information; (2) migratory and behavior patterns in the 

NEP Ocean, particularly any unpublished information; (3) life history 

and ecology, particularly any unpublished information; (4) historical 

and current distribution and abundance of this species throughout the 

NEP Ocean; (5) historical and current population trends in the NEP 

Ocean; (6) historical and current data on commercial and recreational 

fisheries directed at white sharks in the NEP Ocean, including Mexican 

waters; (7) historical and current data on white shark bycatch and 

retention in commercial and recreational fisheries in the NEP Ocean, 

including Mexican waters; (8) data on the trade of white shark 

products, including fins, jaws, and teeth in the NEP Ocean, including 

Mexico; (9) data or other information on encounter rates with white 

sharks through ecotourism operations and sightings data, and long-term 

records of white shark attacks, wounds or scaring of marine mammals; 

(10) adverse impacts related to coastal habitat degradation and the 

health of white sharks, including, but not limited to, impacts related 

to discharge of pollutants, marine debris, or ocean acidification; (11) 

any current or planned activities that may adversely impact the 

species; (12) ongoing or planned efforts to protect and restore the 

species and their habitats; and (12) management, regulatory, and 

enforcement information.

    We also request information on critical habitat for the NEP Ocean 

population of white sharks. Specifically, we request information on the 

physical and biological habitat features that are essential to the 

conservation of the species and identification of habitat areas that 

include these essential physical and biological features. Essential 

features include, but are not limited to: (1) Space for individual and 

population growth and for normal behavior; (2) food, water, air, light, 

minerals, or other nutritional or physiological requirements; (3) cover 

or shelter; (4) sites for reproduction and development of offspring; 

and (5) habitats that are protected from disturbance or are 

representative of the historical, geographical, and ecological 

distributions of the species (50 CFR 424.12). For habitat areas 

potentially qualifying as critical habitat, we request information 

describing: (1) The activities that affect the habitat areas or could 

be affected by the designation; and (2) the economic impacts, impacts 

to national security, or other relevant impacts of additional 

requirements of management measures likely to result from the 

designation.

    We request that all information be accompanied by: (1) Supporting 

documentation such as maps, raw data with associated documentation, 

bibliographic references, or reprints of pertinent publications; and 

(2) the submitter's name, mailing address, email address, and any 

association, institution, or business that the person represents.

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