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Great white shark protection welcomed

30 November 2006 - Wellington

Great white shark protection welcomed

Forest & Bird has welcomed the Government’s announcement today that great white sharks will be legally protected.

Legal protection of great white sharks in New Zealand waters means it will be illegal to deliberately kill these magnificent marine animals, Forest & Bird Conservation Advocate Kirstie Knowles says.

“Great white sharks have undeservedly had a bad rap, and are mistakenly believed by many people to pose a serious danger to humans. In fact shark attacks are very rare in New Zealand waters and you are more likely to be killed by being struck by lightning than by a great white shark.”

There have been nine non-fatal shark attacks in New Zealand since 1990 and no fatal attacks since the 1960s.

Great white shark populations are globally under pressure from commercial and sports fishing, by-catch in other fisheries, and degradation of their habitat. WWF lists great whites among its top 10 species endangered by international trade, and their numbers in New Zealand have been assessed as being in decline.

“Great white sharks are magnificent and fascinating marine predators, but they are at much greater risk from humans than human are from them. We welcome legal protection as a necessary measure to protect this endangered species from further decline.”

Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) – also known as white pointer sharks – are the largest species of carnivorous shark, with adult females (like most shark species, the females are bigger than the males) reputed to reach seven metres in length, and the heaviest recorded great white weighing in at 2.5 tonne.

Great whites are prized by some game fishers and while the recreational bag limit for great whites in New Zealand is one per day, many fishing competitions encourage their capture by awarding prizes for the heaviest shark.

Internationally great white populations are under considerable pressure from being targeted for their teeth, jaws and fins – even small jaws can fetch thousands of dollars. Rising demand for shark skins, fins, meat and other parts used for food, medicine, cosmetics and other industries has led to a worldwide boom in shark fishing. Great whites are also killed in anti-shark nets put up to protect swimmers, surfers and divers in countries where the sharks are common. Dunedin City Council has put up shark nets every summer off Brighton, St Clair and St Kilda beaches since 1969, when they were introduced in response to a series of fatal attacks by great whites around the Otago Peninsula from 1964-69. No great whites have been caught in the nets for the last decade.

Available data on great white numbers in New Zealand waters is extremely limited but they appear to be scarce compared to other shark species and are assessed as being in gradual decline.

Great white sharks are slow to reproduce – females may take 12-14 years to reach maturity, and gestation of their litter of 5-10 “pups” is believed to take more than a year and occur perhaps only once every 2-3 years – which increases the vulnerability of local populations to being wiped out by a relatively low number of deaths.

Australia, South Africa and California have had full protection of great whites in their coastal waters and exclusive economic zones since the 1990s. Great white sharks are also listed under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, which New Zealand has ratified.

ENDS


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