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White Shark Information

White Shark InformationLast Updated: January 10, 2019

White Shark Facts

White Sharks, also called great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), are one of the ocean's primary predators, and fascinating creatures to many. Yet, White Sharks remain one of the least understood of the sea's creatures, despite the enormous popular and scientific interest in them. Below are some common questions about White Sharks, with answers from CDFW experts:

link opens in new tab or windowView a sketch of a White Shark compared to other sharks in the same family (PDF)
(Lamnidae, the mackerel sharks), from California Fish and Game Bulletin 157, by Miller and Lea.

Shark Incident Information

Q: How common are shark attacks on humans?

Shark attacks are extremely rare in California. While they don't typically prey on humans, sharks may pose a threat if you meet them on their "turf" (or maybe in this case "surf"). Since 1950, there have been 184 shark incidents* in California involving all species of sharks at least 163 of which involved White Sharks. Of those, 13 were fatal and all of the fatalities involved White Sharks.

It is important to note that while human beach use and ocean activities have greatly increased due to the growing population and greater popularity of surfing, swimming, and scuba diving, shark incidents have not increased proportionally. This is even more evident when looking at incidents where a person was injured.

California Shark Incident* Statistics (Updated January 2019)

Decade No Injury Non-fatal Injuries Fatalities Total
1950s 1 7 4 12
1960s 1 10 0 11
1970s 2 18 0 20
1980s 3 14 3 20
1990s 11 18 1 30
2000s 21 17 3 41
2010s 30 18 2 50
Totals 69 102 13 184

* A shark incident is defined as any documented case where a shark approached and touched a person in the water or a person’s surfboard, kayak, paddleboard, etc. This summary does not include shark sightings where no contact occurred, incidents where sharks approached boats, or cases where hooked sharks caused injury or damage.

Download a link opens in new windowSummary of Shark Incidents in California (PDF)

Map showing fatal and non-fatal shark incidents from 1950 to present.

Download the link opens in new windowMap: Shark Incidents in California from 1950-2019 (PDF)

Q: How can people avoid shark attacks?

There is only one guaranteed method for avoiding a shark attack: stay out of the ocean. While most White Shark attacks have occurred at the surface, there have also been attacks on divers underwater. Scientists agree that most White Shark attacks on humans are unintentional – where the shark mistakes the person for a seal or sea lion. Swimming in areas where sharks have been observed or where White Sharks have been seen feeding on marine mammals is not recommended.

White Shark California Endangered Species Act (CESA) Review 2014 - Listing Not Warranted

On June 4, 2014, consistent with the recommendation of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) determined that based on the best available science, listing the Northeastern Pacific population of white shark as a threatened or endangered species under CESA is not warranted. The Commission's decision took effect on August 22, 2014, when the findings were published in the California Regulatory Notice Register.

With the Commission's recent action and the related published notice, white shark is no longer a candidate species under CESA, and take of white shark is no longer prohibited by CESA. However, take of white shark is still prohibited in the recreational and commercial fisheries, except for an incidental allowance for gillnet and seine (a.k.a. round haul) vessels (Fish and Game Code § 8599; California Code of Regulations Title 14, § 28.06). Additionally, a Scientific Collecting Permit is required for the take or possession of white shark for scientific, educational or propagation purposes (FGC §§ 5517 & 8599.3; CCR T14, § 650 et seq.).

Brief History of the Petition Process

The Commission received a petition to list the Northeastern Pacific population of white shark as threatened or endangered under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) on August 20, 2012. Pursuant to the requirements of CESA, CDFW prepared an evaluation of the petition which concluded that the petition contained sufficient scientific information to indicate listing may be warranted.

The Commission unanimously concluded that listing the Northeastern Pacific population of white shark as threatened or endangered may be warranted on February 6, 2013, and designated the species as a candidate under CESA. The Commission's decision went into effect on March 1, 2013, when a notice of decision was published in the California Regulatory Notice Register. After the notice publication, CDFW provided a written report to the Commission indicating that listing the white shark as threatened or endangered under CESA was not warranted.


Status Review References

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Regional Manager: Dr. Craig Shuman
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