Carcharodon carcharias 

Scope: Europe
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Chondrichthyes Lamniformes Lamnidae

Scientific Name: Carcharodon carcharias (Linnaeus, 1758)
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Great White Shark
Squalus carcharias Linnaeus, 1758

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered C2a(ii) (Regional assessment) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2014-09-10
Assessor(s): Soldo, A., Bradai, M.N. & Walls, R.
Reviewer(s): Dulvy, N.
Contributor(s): Fordham, S.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Walls, R., Lawson, J. & Dulvy, N.

European regional assessment: Critically Endangered (CR)

Little is known about the biology of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), though it has a low intrinsic rebound potential and long generation length of 23 years. This shark is subject to both incidental and deliberate fishing mortality, not just because of human attacks but also as it has a reputation for damaging fishing gear and scavenging hooked fish. Great White Sharks in the Mediterranean Sea have recently been revealed as a separate subpopulation from the rest of the Atlantic. The apparent genetic isolation of the Mediterranean Sea subpopulation means it is at greater risk of local extinction than once thought. Records of the species show a declining trend since the 1970s, with a complete absence from several areas during the 1990s. There have since been a number of more recent records in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, mainly of juveniles. 

The genetic isolation of this subpopulation, its slow life history, past and ongoing population decline, its negative reputation, and the declining status of all large sharks in the Mediterranean Sea owing to a lack of effective management measures support an assessment of Critically Endangered for this species under Criterion C2a(ii). A continuing decline in the number of mature individuals is inferred, it is suspected that there are less than 250 mature individuals in European waters, and the percentage of mature individuals in one subpopulation is 90-100%, as the majority of the specimens of Great White Shark in European waters are present in the Mediterranean. A similar trend to the Mediterranean one is inferred to be true for the eastern Atlantic subpopulation, as similar threats exist for this subpopulation as well.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) occupies a global range throughout most seas and oceans with concentrations in temperate coastal seas (Compagno 2001), possibly a result of subtropical submergence (Ebert and Stehmann 2013). In the eastern Atlantic it is found in the Bay of Biscay, and along the coastline from France to Gibraltar. It is also found in the waters surrounding the Azores, Madeira Islands, and the Canary Islands (Ebert and Stehmann 2013). A recent study revealed that the Mediterranean Sea subpopulation is genetically distinct from the Atlantic subpopulation (Gubili et al. 2011), therefore it would be useful to assess both subpopulations separately. Within the Mediterranean Sea this shark is found most frequently in the strait of Sicily and the Adriatic Sea (Fergusson 1996, Bradaï and Saïdi 2013) and more recently in the Aegean Sea (Kabasakal and Gedikoglu 2008, Kabasakal et al. 2009). Its depth range is zero to 250 m.

Countries occurrence:
Albania; Algeria; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Croatia; Cyprus; Egypt (Egypt (African part), Sinai); France (Corsica, France (mainland)); Gibraltar; Greece (East Aegean Is., Greece (mainland), Kriti); Israel; Italy (Italy (mainland), Sardegna, Sicilia); Lebanon; Libya; Montenegro; Morocco; Palestinian Territory, Occupied; Portugal (Azores, Madeira, Portugal (mainland)); Slovenia; Spain (Baleares, Canary Is., Spain (mainland), Spanish North African Territories); Syrian Arab Republic; Tunisia; Turkey (Turkey-in-Asia, Turkey-in-Europe)
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – northeast; Atlantic – eastern central; Mediterranean and Black Sea
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):250
Range Map:3855-1

Population [top]


Given recent evidence that supports that the subpopulation in the Mediterranean Sea is separate from the subpopulation found in the eastern Atlantic, information on the subpopulations is presented separately. 

Northeast and Central Atlantic

Little information is currently available on population size or structure for this species in the eastern Atlantic, and landings data are too sparse to infer trends. From 1997-2011 only sporadic landings of this species were reported to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna database from France (< 0.5 tonnes in 2011), Morocco (92 tonnes in 2011) and Senegal (18 tonnes in 2010; ICES 2013).

Mediterranean Sea

The size of the Mediterranean Sea subpopulation is unknown. Incomplete and somewhat anecdotal records from longstanding Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) trap fisheries (“tonnara”) in Sicily, southern Sardinia, Tunisia and the Balearic Islands (“almadraba”) suggest that incidental captures of adult Great White Sharks were not uncommon during the first six decades of the 20th century, with a general theme of declining records post-1970, often accompanied by the cessation of these fisheries themselves (Fergusson 2002, Morey et al. 2003).

In Italian waters at the Favignana tonnara, a number of adult specimens were landed between 1950 and 1982 and others observed but not caught. The last specimen encountered inside the trap nets was in May 1987 (Fergusson 2002). Similarly in traps off the Balearic Islands, 27 sharks were recorded between the 1920s and 1970s (Morey et al. 2003). A similar picture of increasingly sporadic records is repeated in the tonnara at Sidi Daoud, Tunisia, where a number of captures were made from the 1950s up to 1979, followed by lengthy periods with no specimens caught or observed. A total of 59 reliable captures of the species were reported along the Tunisian coasts from 1953 to 2012; 57% of them were registered after 2000 (Bradaï and Saïdi 2013). More recently, based on the capture of a pregnant female in the Gulf of Gabès (Saïdi et al. 2005) and other subsequent records, Bradaï and Saïdi (2013) suggested that Tunisian waters are a nursery area for this species.

In the Croatian Adriatic Sea, reports average at 0.0-0.4 sharks per year from the 1960s-1990s (De Maddalena 2000). Soldo and Jardas (2002a,b) reported a significant decline in Great White Shark records during the last decades of the 20th century compared to its occurrence since the mid-19th century. Hence, a disappearance of the species from Croatian Adriatic coastal waters was related to the disappearance of tuna due to new offshore tuna fishing practices that were introduced in the 1970s (Soldo and Jardas 2002a,b).

In the Sicilian Channel between 1950 and 2000, landing rates averaged around two specimens per year, but there have been no records since the mid 1990s from this area. In the eastern Mediterranean Sea (Aegean Sea and Levant) only one specimen was reported since 1993 from waters eastwards of the Ionian Sea, until 2008 when two new-borns were captured off the coast of Altınoluk (Edremit Bay, north Aegean Sea), by a commercial gillnet and a bottom longline (Kabasakal and Gedikoglu 2008). Two juvenile females were also captured in coastal waters of the northeast Aegean Sea in 2009 (Kabasakal et al. 2009). These records support the presumption of a breeding ground for Great White Shark in the northeast Aegean Sea, extending from Edremit Bay to the north of Gokceada (Kabasakal et al. 2009). Small numbers of juvenile and neonatal specimens have been reported since the mid 1970s by demersal trawlers operating through the Sicilian Channel (Vacchi and Serena 1997) and small individuals have often been landed in parts of Tunisia by surface and demersal longliners (Fergusson 2002). However, confusion of young Great White Sharks with other mackerel sharks (lamnids) is common in Mediterranean fisheries (Fergusson 1996).

More recent records include a newborn female that was caught by trawl net in waters surrounding the island of Lampedusa during 2009. Maliet et al. (2013) also reported the capture of a juvenile male off the Corsican coast in 2012, along with previous records from 1976 and 2011.

Records of Great White Sharks in the Mediterranean Sea are declining despite an increase in monitoring effort (Soldo et al. 2014). The Mediterranean Sea subpopulation may be considered a consequence of historical accident and female philopatry, rather than contemporary immigration from the Atlantic subpopulation, revealing it to be at greater risk of local extinction than previously thought (Gubili et al. 2011).

Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

Great White Shark is principally known as a pelagic dweller of temperate continental shelf waters, but also ranges into the open ocean far from land and near oceanic islands, and the coastal tropics. It is found from the surf-line and the intertidal zone to far offshore, and from the surface down to > 250 m depth. It does not occur in fresh water, but penetrates saline bays and estuaries and during high tide it may swim into bays that have no water at low tide.

Maximum size is undetermined, but estimated at 600-640 cm total length (TL). Males mature between 360 and 400 cm TL with a maximum length of ~ 550 cm. Female size at maturity is uncertain, but thought to be between 450 and 500 cm TL, with a maximum length of 600 cm or more. Size at birth is ~ 120-150 cm TL (Ebert and Stehmann 2013). One specimen caught in the north Aegean Sea in 2008 is the smallest neonate from Mediterranean waters to date at 125.5 cm TL (Kabasakal and Gedikoglu 2008).

Age at maturity is estimated at 10-12 years based on counts of annually deposited vertebral growth rings (Cailliet et al. 1985). A mature female of 500 cm TL is estimated to have reached ~ 14-16 years. The average reproductive age is estimated at 17 years. Longevity was suspected as ~ 30 years (Cailliet et al. 1985) until a recent study showed the species may reach > 70 years of age, based on testing the cartilage for radiocarbon residue from nuclear tests carried out by nations including the United States and Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s (Hamady et al. 2014). The species is known to have a relatively low intrinsic rebound potential (Smith et al. 1998) and the generation length has been calculated as 23 years (Mollet and Cailliet 2002).

Litter size ranges from three to 14 embryos, and reproduction is viviparous with oophagy. The gestation period is as yet unknown, but suspected to be about two years based on females returning to specific areas every other year (Ebert and Stehmann 2013). Parturition apparently occurs during the spring to late summer in warm-temperate neritic waters. To date, mating has not been reliably witnessed.

Generation Length (years):23

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: There is no information available on the use and trade of this species in Europe.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

Offshore records of this species in the Mediterranean Sea have included captures across all size-classes made by pelagic longlines, bottom trawls, driftnets and purse seines (e.g., Fergusson 2002, Soldo and Jardas 2002 a,b, Soldo 2007). Although no directed Mediterranean Sea fishery has ever existed, there are attempts to capture, harpoon or otherwise kill these sharks following cases of shark attack and/or associated media attention.

Great White Sharks readily approach boats, scavenge from fishing nets or longlines and devour hooked fish taken by rod-and-line or swordfish harpoon. This tendency increases their sensitivity to, and often results in, their accidental entrapment or deliberate killing by commercial fishermen. Many such cases have been recorded throughout the Mediterranean Sea for centuries. In certain regions such as Sicily, the species has traditionally been viewed negatively as manifesting a costly interference to fisheries. Presumption is that interactions with the growing number of Bluefin Tuna farms installed in the Mediterranean Sea, such as off Malta and parts of Spain and Libya, are inevitable and may result in new pressures being placed on these sharks and equally, a stern test of any local enforcement of conservation laws favouring Great White Shark.

The effect of habitat degradation might be especially acute in the Mediterranean Sea, where traditional prey such as Monk Seals (Monachus monachus) and Bluefin Tuna have been significantly reduced in abundance, and where growing areas of intensive human inhabitation, especially for tourism, overlap with Great White Shark habitat.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

Great White Shark was listed in Appendix III of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2000, to regulate or ban international trade of teeth, jaws, fins and other parts. It was then added to Appendix II in 2005, in an attempt to ensure that trade be controlled to the extent that it is compatible with the species’ survival. A CITES listing might help slow trade in Great White Shark products, but will not eliminate low volume criminal trade. The species was added to both Appendices of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) in 2002 with the objective of providing a framework for the coordination of measures adopted by range states to improve the conservation of the species (Environment Australia 2002).

European Commission Regulation No 43/2009 prohibits Community vessels to fish for, to retain on board, to transship and to land Great White Shark in all Community and non-Community waters; and also prohibits third country fishing vessels to fish for, to retain on board, to transship and to land this species in all Community waters. In 2013, the European Union (EU) banned the removal of shark fins on board vessels through Regulation No. 605/2013, in line with advice from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission’s Shark Specialist Group and other shark fishery experts, in order to enhance enforcement of the 2003 EU ban on shark finning (Regulation No. 1185/2003) and facilitate improved shark fishery data collection.

Great White Shark is listed as an endangered species under Appendix II of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Mediterranean Sea (the Barcelona Convention: originally enacted in 1978 and amended in 1995). It has been signed and ratified by all coastal nations in the region. An implicit requirement of signatory nations is to preserve and manage vulnerable fauna, including this species, as detailed under one of the Convention's protocols, the Protocol for Special Protected Areas and Biological Diversity of the Mediterranean Sea (known as the 'SPA Protocol'). In May 1999, Italy ratified the 'SPA Protocol' which having entered into force in 2000, meant that Great White Shark now had protected status in Italian seas, including those around Sicily. Additionally, since October 1999 the species has been unilaterally protected in Maltese waters by specific legislation enacted under its Environment Protection Act No. 5 (1991) Flora and Fauna Protection (Amendment) Regulations 1999. All directed fisheries for elasmobranchs are prohibited in the coastal waters of Israel, though Great White Shark is an exceedingly rare species in those waters. Within waters under Croatian jurisdiction it is proclaimed as a strictly protected species.

Great White Shark should be removed from international game fish record lists, and needs consistently rational and realistic treatment by entertainment and news media to counter its notoriety and inflated market value. Further research should also be conducted on the population size and trend of the species.

Citation: Soldo, A., Bradai, M.N. & Walls, R. 2015. Carcharodon carcharias. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T3855A48948790. . Downloaded on 22 September 2018.
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