To many, white sharks are “the fish you love to hate,” triggering a primal panic unlike any other. To others, they are objects of fascination. To shark scientists and the folks at Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary they represent a vital part of our ocean ecosystem, deserving of our respect and in need of our protection. Meet the white shark, Carcharodon carcharias.
Adult white sharks target the waters of Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary each fall to feed on our abundant seals and sea lions. These few months may represent their major “calorie banking” for the entire year. Come winter, they’ll leave abruptly for a site roughly 1,500 miles west of Ensenada – aka the White Shark Café. There, only squid and other less nutritious prey are abundant; but other whites congregate there, too: why? Perhaps to mate, but no one really knows.
NOT SO LONELY AT THE TOP
Our sanctuary protects a white shark population like no other on the planet, because it consists exclusively of adults and sub-adults. “Our” whites represent the species’ future reproductive capability throughout the entire Northeast Pacific; they are the wise survivors. Along with humans and killer whales, white sharks are considered the ocean’s apex predators.
WHO’S AFRAID OF WHOM?
For white sharks, sudden death wears a human face, with killer whales running an extremely distant second. White sharks are on the Top Ten list of sharks killed for their fins, an ingredient in shark fin soup and homeopathic remedies. For the trophy jaw trade, they are an unenviable Number One. Bycatch in gillnet and longline fisheries accidentally kills untold numbers of white sharks and other non-targeted species. In some areas white shark populations have plummeted by over 70%. Between bycatch and finning mortalities it’s doubtful that some shark populations may face extinction.
Should we be scared of white sharks? You bet! -- but within reason. Should we try to kill or cull them, out of fear? No! To sharks, the ocean is life itself. It’s up to us to stay out of harm’s way, and accept that we’re in the ocean food web.
FAIR IS FAIR!
Our burgeoning numbers of seals and sea lions, with their endearing big, brown eyes, are severely hampering the recovery of endangered salmon and steelhead whose populations have been decimated by river water diversion and overfishing. White sharks – though cold-eyed and fierce – are these fish’s heroes, keeping seal populations down. They’re the ocean’s system of checks and balances – with teeth.
FRIEND OR FOE?
Who could be friends with a shark? Ask a remora, a small fish that attaches itself with a sucker disk to sharks. These hungry hitchhikers eat bits of shark meal "leftovers" (and maybe some parasites). As a human, you should be a friend to sharks … but only from a respectful distance.
WHITE SHARK STEWARDSHIP
Since understanding is key to effective conservation, the Farallones marine sanctuary instituted its White Shark Stewardship Project. We permit legitimate conservation-directed research. To protect whites from disruptive shark tour operator activities we established legislation to prohibit non-permitted white shark attraction and approach. We also conduct public and boater outreach - like SharktoberFest! - and school education programs like Sharkmobile.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT SHARKS
Join us at SharktoberFest, visit our Shark Science Station, talk to the folks at Shark Stewards about activism, and the Marine Science Institute staff with their live leopard sharks from San Francisco Bay! Stay informed about the latest research: become a knowledgeable, effective steward of white sharks and the Farallones marine sanctuary.
Saturday September 30th, 11am-4pm
Live sharks, shark experts; games, music, crafts and a costume contest!
Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center
991 Marine Drive, Crissy Beach, Presidio of San Francisco, CA 94129