Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

The Price of Fame: Cites Regulation and Efforts towards International Protection of the Great White Shark

Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

The Price of Fame: Cites Regulation and Efforts towards International Protection of the Great White Shark

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

After several failed attempts, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) passed a proposal in October of 2004 to increase trade restrictions on the Great White Shark (white shark), also known as carcharodon carcharias, by placing it on Appendix II of its list of protected species.1 Trade in Appendix II species is restricted by the requirement that states parties issue export permits for all specimens or parts of specimens on the list.2 The adoption of this proposal is controversial among CITES member nations because of high market demands for white shark products.3 Although research on white sharks is limited due in part to the elusive nature of the species,4 all available research indicates that the population of white sharks is decreasing; in some areas the decline is in large, possibly unsustainable, numbers.5 This population decrease is particularly alarming because market demand remains a powerful motivation for continued depletion.

In Part II, this Note discusses the biological characteristics of white sharks and the economic conditions that make conservation necessary. Part III presents a brief overview of CITES before examining its efforts towards white shark conservation. In Part FV, this Note examines: (1) the effectiveness of the inclusion of the white shark on CITES Appendix II; (2) how this measure is likely insufficient; and (3) what further international and state efforts are necessary to ensure survival of the species. This Note concludes by offering ecotourism as a potential mechanism for increasing awareness of the white shark's plight. Ecotourism as an economic model may combat black market trade in white shark products by making white sharks more valuable as live attractions than as items for sale.

II. THREATS TO THE WHITE SHARK

This Part identifies biological and behavioral considerations that put white sharks in danger of severe population decline when even a few members of a population are removed from the environment. It then explores the two main reasons for human prédation on white sharks: the popularity of shark fin soup and a demanding international collector market for teeth and jaws. Finally, this Part examines the current effects of over-fishing.

A. Biological and Behavioral Considerations Making White Sharks Vulnerable to Predation

The white shark is undoubtedly one of the most fearsome fish in the ocean. An apex predator, the white shark preys upon sick and diseased large fish and mammals, thereby maintaining balance between predator and prey down the food chain.6

Though white sharks look invulnerable, their populations are maintained by a delicate balance.7 Because they are top predators, population size is naturally low.8 Female white sharks are generally twelve to fifteen years of age, and males are typically eight to nine years old before they are able to reproduce.9 The white shark's gestation period is likely longer than one year,10 making its reproduction rate the lowest of all the large sharks.11 Litters of live pups typically range from two to ten,ia a small number considering that the infant mortality rate could be as high as eighty percent.13 Due to these biological limitations on the shark's ability to build sustainable populations, the relatively small number of white sharks can quickly become alarmingly low when their environment is disturbed.14

One important study of the white sharks at the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco, California illustrates that white sharks are not able to adapt to sudden changes in their environment.15 The Farallon Islands are regularly visited by white sharks during the seal population's breeding season.16 The Farallon population of seals grew rapidly in the 1970s and early 1980s, leading scientists to believe the white shark population would also rise due, in part, to the increased availability of prey.17 The white shark population did increase, but only became noticeably larger between 1983 and 1993-a span of thirteen to twenty-three years from the onset of seal population growth. …

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