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World Last Updated: Mar 11th, 2011 - 15:30:48

Great White Shark Population in Sharp Decline
David Hope
Mar 11, 2011, 05:27

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The great white shark may be one of the most feared predators in the ocean, but a new research effort casts doubt on how dominant the species may be. The effort, conducted by marine biologists, sugges that the population of great white sharks living off the coast of California are in sharp decline.

According to biologists, only 219 full-grown or near-grown adults inhabit the coastal waters between Bodega Bay and Monterey each fall. Based on populations of similar top-level predators, scientists thought they would find more great whites.

"This estimate only represents a single point in time," said Taylor Chapple, who led the study as a doctoral student at the University of California, Davis. "Further research will tell us if this number represents a healthy, viable population, or one critically in danger of collapse, or something in between."

Great whites usually live along California's north-central coast from late summer through the end of fall to feed on seals, sea lions and other marine life. In winter, the sharks begin a massive migration that takes them as far as Hawaii.

According to John McCosker, a marine biologist with the California Academy of Sciences who has researched great whites for more than 30 years, the number of sharks could be a little higher than the study determined because of how infrequently great whites come to the surface, but not by much.

As top-level predators, McCosker said the sharks play a crucial role in keeping the rest of the marine ecosystem in balance.

"We need them very badly," he said. "If there are as few as they suggest, that means we should be very careful in maintaining the population level."

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