White sharks rebound in California

The long arc of environmental regulation is rebuilding a damaged ecosystem.

 

Most of the millions of beachgoers who flock to southern California’s coast never notice the baby sharks swimming laps just offshore, but that’s starting to change. The sharks aren’t on the prowl for sunblock-glazed snacks: the Southern California Bight – the coastal waters from Santa Barbara to the U.S.-Mexico border – is a white shark nursery. It’s where the young predators hide out, stay warm, and learn to hunt, before joining adults in deeper seas. Though their species has long been declining, baby white sharks are making a surprising comeback in the Bight.

Their return tells a bigger environmental success story: federal and state regulations stretching back 40 years have curtailed pollution and repaired the marine food web that includes white sharks (formerly called great white sharks). “You can’t have an ecosystem that’s badly damaged and have predators,” Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at California State University-Long Beach, says.

Chris Lowe (in red) returns a juvenile great white shark to the sea, off Santa Monica beach. Baby white sharks are showing up in larger numbers, indicating a healthier marine ecosystem.
Steve McNicholas

The Bight’s baby white sharks declined for a number of reasons, Lowe says: poor water quality, their decimation as gillnetting bycatch, and the near-extirpation of the prey that adult sharks rely on. Likewise, no single environmental law saved them. Instead, a suite of regulations enacted from the 1970s to the mid 1990s helped restore southern California’s coastal ecosystem enough for its white shark nursery to eventually start recovering. (See timeline).

In 1994, California passed a and a , both of which protected baby white sharks. , researchers have documented baby shark populations . The sharks shape the Bight’s ecosystem, in turn. California’s seals and sea lions have rebounded so well under the , predators are needed to cull their populations and keep them healthy, Lowe says. Meanwhile, development projects such as marinas and residential buildings constructed in California’s estuaries have pushed stingrays out of their traditional habitats and into coastal waters, where the rays provide easy food for baby white sharks. In future, the sharks’ appetites might even make people safer: Stingrays injure beachgoers on California’s coast far more frequently than white sharks do, Lowe says, though he acknowledges that’s a hard argument to sell to a shark-phobic public.

“You hear about all the bad things we’re doing to the planet, to the ocean: the pollution, overfishing, global climate change,” Lowe says. Marine life faces continued threats, but the recovery of the shark population is a sign that humans are doing something right. “Maybe at a regional scale, but at least it’s a start.”

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • Take over the reins of a dynamic grassroots social justice group that protects Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - Winter Wildlands Alliance seeks an experienced and highly motivated individual to lead and manage the organization as Executive Director. Visit https://winterwildlands.org/executive-director-search/ for...
  • Background: The Birds of Prey NCA Partnership is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Boise, Idaho, which was established in 2015 after in-depth stakeholder input...
  • Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor of Native Americans and the News Media The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is...
  • AWF seeks an energetic Marketing and Communications Director. Please see the full job description at https://azwildlife.org/jobs
  • The Southwest Communications Director will be responsible for working with field staff in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico to develop and execute detailed communication plans...
  • An intentional community designed for aging in place. Green built with Pumice-crete construction (R32), bamboo flooring, pine doors, T&G ceiling with fans, and maintenance free...
  • (CFROG) is a Ventura County, CA based watch-dog and advocacy non-profit organization. cfrog.org
  • Take your journalism skills to the next level and deepen your understanding of environmental issues by applying for the 2019-2020 Ted Scripps Fellowships in Environmental...
  • The San Juan Mountains Association is seeking a visionary leader to spearhead its public lands stewardship program in southwest Colorado. For a detailed job description...
  • The Cascade Forest Conservancy seeks a passionate ED to lead our forest protection, conservation, education, and advocacy programs.
  • Mountain Pursuit is a new, bold, innovative, western states, hunting advocacy nonprofit headquartered in Jackson, Wyoming. We need a courageous, hard working, passionate Executive Director...
  • The Draper Natural History Museum (DNHM) at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center of the West in Cody, WY, invites applications for the Willis McDonald, IV...
  • Couple seeks quiet, private, off-grid acreage in area with no/low cell phone service and no/low snowfall. Conservation/bordering public lands a plus. CA, OR, WA, ID,...
  • Former northern Sierra winery, with 2208 sq.ft. commercial building, big lot, room to expand.
  • The dZi Foundation is seeking a FT Communications Associate with a passion for Nepal to join our team in Ridgway, Colorado. Visit dzi.org/careers.
  • Available now for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojaidigital.net.
  • Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • Suitable for planting hay, hemp, fruit. Excellent water rights. 1800 square foot farmhouse, outbuildings, worker housing.