Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Guadalupe Island Sharks - Last of Their Kind?

This is a post that I have wanted to write for many months, but lacked the desire to actually put the words down for fear that I might be right.

For the almost the past decade I have been wondering about the state of Isla Guadalupe's white shark population.

What started as an exciting race in the early years of operations here to count and name as many animals as we could, Shredder, Mau, Fat Tony, Bruce, has now become something that I never envisioned it would back in 2002.

A grim watch.

We now know, thanks to the efforts of a few researchers, that Guadalupe Island white sharks migrate many thousands of miles each year, and return to this island to fatten up on seals, and to most likely find a mate.

Not every shark returns, for instance Fat Tony has never come back, and that's a scary proposition as we also know the population of white sharks here remains about 133 animals, give or take a precious few who return on off years or sharks that vanish into the vast Pacific never to been seen again.

Which makes the news coming out of the Farallons even more poignant this week. Researchers at U.C Davis are estimating the total white shark population off the coast of California to be a paltry 219 animals.

Added up that makes a unified breeding and circulating population of 352 animals.

It's also not the case that white sharks are not breeding, they are, but there's a big question about the survivability of the young. As science and researchers are discovering, young of the year, often find themselves on California hooks, or killed in Mexico as a by product of long lining.

Our own investigations in Ensenada have uncovered 6-10 animals a week brought into the Ensenada fish market and sold as swordfish. One fish market.

It's evident that the population at Isla Guadalupe is not replenishing, one might expect to see 4-10 new animals a year arriving at the island if the population was stable and growing. Instead we have come to an almost standstill in the naming rights to these animals as more often than not sharks we think are new are in fact already identified.

I am not a scientist, just a guy who observes things, and if you ask me, I think the population of whites at Isla Guadalupe if not in decline is at a standstill. That revelation, which started a few years ago as a nagging thought is now a piercing scream, made manifest by the actual researchers who have been doing the hard work and have come home with these shocking numbers.

Kudos to Pete Thomas for breaking the news.

Patric Douglas CEO

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