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Just how many great white sharks are there?

by AirTalk®

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A Great White Shark is attracted by a lure on the 'Shark Lady Adventure Tour' on October 19, 2009 in Gansbaai, South Africa. The lure, usually a tuna head, is attached to a buoy and thrown into the water in front of the cage with the divers. The waters off Gansbaai are the best place in the world to see Great White Sharks, due to the abundance of prey such as seals and penguins which live and breed on Dyer Island, which lies 8km from the mainland. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Great white sharks are the kings of the ocean. They are what is known as “apex predators,” which means they are the hunters and rarely the hunted. And for good reasons: great whites could stretch over 20 feet,  weigh up to 3 ½ tons and chow down some 11 tons of food each year.

Despite all that we know about the great white shark, one thing has been difficult to figure out—exactly how many of them are out there. But whether they will be designated permanently as an endangered species hinges precisely on that question.

The sharks have been closed to commercial and sport fishing in the state since 1994. Since March, the fish have been protected under the California Endangered Species Act, which lasts for a year. The Fish and Wildlife Commission is set to discuss making that classification stick in early 2014.

Three environmental groups—Oceana, Shark Stewards and the Center for Biological Diversity—are the main forces behind the push to get the fish listed. Their rationale is based on a single census done between 2006 and 2008, which estimated the population to be around 200. But other scientists say that the population is actually much larger and resources should be devoted to protecting other species instead.

Geoff Shester, California Program director of Oceana, the world’s largest advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans

Michael L. Domeier, President of the Marine Conservation Science Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on issues in marine biology and fisheries

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