Species Profile

White Shark Atlantic population

Scientific Name: Carcharodon carcharias
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
COSEWIC Range: Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Atlantic Ocean
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2021
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A2bd
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This highly mobile species is a seasonal migrant in Atlantic Canada and considered to be part of a widespread Northwest Atlantic population. The status of the Canadian population is considered to be the same as that of the broader Northwest Atlantic population. That broader population is estimated to have declined by >70% over the past 1.5 generations (since the 1960s) because of incidental mortality from fishing. However, the population appears to have remained stable since the 1990s and is projected to remain stable or increase slightly. Although measures to improve fishing practices have been introduced, the primary threat continues to be mortality from incidental capture in fisheries. The species is still vulnerable to this threat because of its long generation time (42 years) and low reproductive rate.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Endangered in April 2006. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2021.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2011-06-23

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Description

The White Shark is known worldwide as a top predator and is renowned for its large size. In Atlantic Canada, the average length of recorded White Sharks is 4 metres, with sizes ranging from 2 to 6 metres. Some distinguishing features of the White Shark include: pointed dorsal fin; black eyes; large size; sharp colour contrast between its back (grey or black) and underside (white); heavy torpedo-shaped body; caudal keel (ridge along the side of the tail), long, cone-shaped snout, large triangular blade-like teeth with serrations (like a saw).

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Distribution and Population

The White Shark is rare compared to other shark species, but is widely distributed in the sub-polar to tropical seas of both hemispheres. It is observed most frequently in inshore waters over the continental shelves of the Northwest Atlantic, Mediterranean Sea, southern Africa, southern Australia, New Zealand and the eastern North Pacific. White Sharks occur in inshore and offshore waters and at a variety of water depths, from just below the surface to depths greater than 1,100 metres.

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Habitat

White Sharks found in Atlantic Canadian waters are part of the larger Northwest Atlantic population, which ranges from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Mexico and the northern Caribbean Sea. Within this range, the highest concentrations are found in US waters. There are no estimates of population size in Canadian waters or in the Northwest Atlantic. In Atlantic Canadian waters, there are 57 confirmed White Shark sightings from the 1800s to 2018 and over 30 detections of tagged White Sharks. In recent years, the number of White Shark sightings has increased, with 22 confirmed sightings between 2009 and 2018. Satellite and acoustic tags have recorded White Sharks in several areas throughout eastern Canadian waters including the St. Lawrence Estuary, the Grand Banks, and the Bay of Fundy.

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Biology

White Sharks grow slowly and take a long time to reach maturity – 26 years for males and 33 years for females. They also produce few young; females give birth to 2 to 14 live pups and may only produce 4 to 6 litters in a lifetime. Population growth is quite low. White Sharks are long-lived, potentially reaching over 70 years old. White Sharks mainly prey upon a variety of fish and marine mammals. Researchers agree that White Shark numbers in the Northwest Atlantic have declined substantially, with estimates ranging from 63% to 80%. During the last 20 years, their population seems to be increasing, potentially due to conservation measures that were implemented in the US and internationally in the 1990s and early 2000s

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Threats

Humans pose the greatest threat to White Sharks. Although they are protected in some countries and listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), in some places they are still targeted in commercial and recreational fisheries. They are harvested for their valuable body parts, including fins for consumption and teeth and jaws for jewelry and collectibles. White Sharks must swim to breathe, making them particularly susceptible to mortality when accidentally caught in fishing gear that restricts their ability to swim (e.g. gillnets). At present, the only documented threat to White Sharks in Atlantic Canada is bycatch in commercial fisheries. There have been approximately 3 mortalities per decade since the 1950s in a variety of gear types. Other potential threats that are not well understood include pollution, underwater noise, and offshore and coastal development activities. In other countries, shark control programs, harassment, and ecotourism (e.g. shark cage diving) can pose threats.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The White Shark, Atlantic population, is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

98 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the White Shark Carcharodon carcharias (Atlantic and Pacific populations) in Canada (2006-08-30)

    The (great) white shark (Carcharodon carcharias (Linnaeus, 1758)) is the only living species of this genus. It is recognizable in the field by its conspicuously black iris and a sharp contrast between dorsal and ventral colouration changing from dark (grey or black) to white. Genetic evidence combined with satellite tracking information clearly shows that this species is wide-ranging. Gene flow between Atlantic and Pacific populations is likely restricted but population structure between hemispheres and ocean basins has not been investigated. There is no known genetic structure in Canadian populations. For the purpose of this report, Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific populations are treated as two separate designatable units.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - White Shark, Atlantic population (2022-01-10)

    This highly mobile species is a seasonal migrant in Atlantic Canada and considered to be part of a widespread Northwest Atlantic population. The status of the Canadian population is considered to be the same as that of the broader Northwest Atlantic population. That broader population is estimated to have declined by >70% over the past 1.5 generations (since the 1960s) because of incidental mortality from fishing. However, the population appears to have remained stable since the 1990s and is projected to remain stable or increase slightly. Although measures to improve fishing practices have been introduced, the primary threat continues to be mortality from incidental capture in fisheries. The species is still vulnerable to this threat because of its long generation time (42 years) and low reproductive rate.
  • Response Statements - White Shark (2006-11-29)

    The species is globally distributed in sub-tropical and temperate waters, but absent from cold polar waters; hence Atlantic and Pacific populations in Canada are isolated from each other and are considered separate designatable units. This very large apex predator is rare in most parts of its range, but particularly so in Canadian waters, which represent the northern fringe of its distribution. There are only 32 records over 132 years for Atlantic Canada. No abundance trend information is available for Atlantic Canada. Numbers have been estimated to have declined by about 80% over 14 years (less than one generation) in areas of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean outside of Canadian waters. The species is highly mobile, and individuals in Atlantic Canada are likely seasonal migrants belonging to a widespread Northwest Atlantic population; hence the status of the Atlantic Canadian population is considered to be the same as that of the broader population. Additional considerations include the long generation time (~23 years) and low reproductive rates (estimated gestation is 14 months and average fecundity is 7 live-born young) of this species, which limit its ability to withstand losses from increase in mortality rates. Bycatch in the pelagic long line fishery is considered to be the primary cause of increased mortality.

Orders

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2006 (2006-08-30)

    2006 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report 2020 to 2021 (2021-10-12)

    Over the past year COSEWIC assessed a total of 66 wildlife species, of which 4 were assigned a status of Not at Risk. Of these 66, COSEWIC re-examined the status of 41 wildlife species; of these, 80% were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 826 wildlife species in various risk categories including 369 Endangered, 196 Threatened, 239 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 19 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, 62 wildlife species have been designated as Data Deficient, and 202 have been assessed as Not at Risk.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing licence(#18-PQUE-00022), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-02-08)

    Commercial groundfish fishing with fixed gear (gillnets or longlines) is authorized for holders of groundfish fishing licences from several fleets that carry out fishing in the waters of Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Quebec Region. A gillnet is a net that is suspended in the water column and anchored to the seabed. Longlines consist of a long main line, to which shorter lines with baited hooks are attached, which is anchored to the seabed at each end.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#18-PQUE-00023), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-02-08)

    For fishing fleets in the Quebec Region, participation in the commercial bluefin tuna fishery is restricted for bluefin tuna licence holders using vessels less than 19.81 m in 4RST fishing areas (Gulf), and outside the Gulf. This commercial fishery is based on a competitive fisheries management regime under which allocations are divided among participants through the issuance of tags to eligible licence holders. A maximum of 4 lines can be used per boat, with a maximum of 2 tended lines being used simultaneously. Each line may be equipped with only one hook.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#18-PQUE-00024), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-02-08)

    Commercial fishing with gillnets is authorized for herring and mackerel licence holders in the waters of Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Quebec Region (herring in areas 15, 16A, 16B and 16D, and mackerel in areas 15 and 16). These commercial fisheries are based on a competitive fisheries management regime. Holders of herring and mackerel licences are authorized to use gillnets, among other types of gear. A gillnet is a wall of monofilament or multifilament nylon netting that hangs in the water column. Fish smaller than the mesh size are caught while trying to swim in the net. Licence conditions vary depending on the fishing area, gear type and species.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PGLF-00003), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2020-04-01)

    For Species at Risk Act compliance purposes, commercial fishing licence holders are authorized to use mobile gear (purse seine) and fixed gear (gillnet) in the herring, mackerel and capelin fishery in DFO Gulf Region jurisdictional waters. A purse seine is a giant net that fish harvesters use to encircle and capture a very large school of fish. A gillnet is a net suspended in the water column and anchored to the seabed. Bycatch of White Sharks has occurred in purse seines along Nova Scotia coastal waters twice in the past 100 years although never in the Gulf Region. Seven White Sharks were caught in gillnets in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the past 100 years, and six of those were in DFO Gulf Region jurisdictional waters.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PGLF-00004), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2020-04-01)

    Commercial fishing with mobile gear (e.g. otter trawl, Danish seine, Scottish seine) and fixed gear (gillnet, benthic longline) is authorized for license holders involved in the multi-species groundfish fishery in DFO Gulf Region jurisdictional waters. The mobile gear used in this fishery consists of variations of a cone-shaped net that is pulled by a vessel and which captures benthic or demersal species. The mesh size and opening of the net is very effective at selecting or regulating the size of fish caught. For the fixed gear, a gillnet is a net that is suspended in the water column and anchored to the seabed. Longlines consist of a long main line, to which shorter lines with baited hooks are attached, which is anchored to the seabed at each end. Bycatch of White Sharks has occurred in mobile gears in the Atlantic twice in the past 100 years although never in the Gulf Region. Seven White Sharks were caught in gillnets in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the past 100 years, six of those were within DFO Gulf Region jurisdiction waters.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PMAR-00001), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-04-01)

    Commercial fishing with fixed gear (e.g. benthic longline, gillnet) is authorized for use by 1114 license holders in several fleets within the multi-species groundfish fishery in DFO Maritimes Region waters. Benthic longlines consist of many baited hooks attached to a mainline, which is anchored to the seafloor at either end. A 'set gillnet' is a wall of netting in the water column that is anchored on the seafloor. Incidental bycatch of White sharks has occurred in groundfish gillnets in DFO Maritimes Region, although interactions are extremely rare. There are no records of White shark bycatch in benthic longline gear in DFO Maritimes Region, although bycatch of this species has occurred in this gear type outside of Canadian waters.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PMAR-00002), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-04-01)

    Commercial fishing with fixed gear (e.g. benthic longline, gillnet) is authorized for use by 49 license holders in several fleets within the multi-species groundfish fishery in DFO Maritimes Region waters. Benthic longlines consist of many baited hooks attached to a mainline, which is anchored to the seafloor at either end. A 'set gillnet' is a wall of netting in the water column that is anchored on the seafloor. Incidental bycatch of White sharks has occurred in groundfish gillnets in DFO Maritimes Region, although interactions are extremely rare. There are no records of White shark bycatch in benthic longline gear in DFO Maritimes Region, although bycatch of this species has occurred in this gear type outside of Canadian waters.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PMAR-00003), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-01-01)

    Commercial fishing with pelagic longline gear is authorized for use by license holders in the Swordfish and Other Tunas (Albacore, Bigeye, Yellowfin) fisheries in Atlantic Canadian waters. Pelagic longlines consist of a mainline, gangions and baited hooks that can be suspended at any depth in the water column, depending on the target species. Incidental bycatch of White sharks is a rare, but known, occurrence in fisheries using pelagic longline gear to target Swordfish and "other tunas". Incidental bycatch of Loggerhead sea turtles is known to occur in fisheries using pelagic longline gear to target Swordfish and "other tunas". This is the only recorded human-induced threat to this species in Atlantic Canadian waters.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PMAR-00006), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-04-01)

    Commercial fishing with mobile gear (e.g. otter trawl, Danish seine, Scottish seine) is authorized for use by 296 license holders in the multi-species groundfish fishery in DFO Maritimes Region waters of NAFO 4VWX+5. The gear used in this fishery consists of variations of a cone-shaped net that is pulled by a vessel and which captures benthic or demersal species. Incidental bycatch of White sharks has occurred in groundfish otter trawls in DFO Maritimes Region, although interactions are extremely rare. There are no records of White shark bycatch in Danish or Scottish seine gear in DFO Maritimes Region, although bycatch of this species has occurred in this gear type outside of Canadian waters.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PMAR-00009), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-04-01)

    Catch-and-release fishing with rod and reel gear is authorized for use by license holders in the Recreational Shark fishery in DFO Maritimes Region (Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization divisions 4VWX and the Canadian portion of 5YZ). Rod and reel gear generally consists of a monofilament mainline, a cable leader, and a hook. Incidental bycatch of White sharks is a rare, but known, occurrence in fisheries using rod and reel gear to target sharks.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PMAR-00014 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-05-01)

    Catch-and-release fishing with rod and reel gear is authorized for use by license holders in the Shark Charter fishery in DFO Maritimes Region (Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization divisions 4VWX and the Canadian portion of 5YZ). Rod and reel gear generally consists of a monofilament mainline, a cable leader, and a hook. Incidental bycatch of White sharks is a rare, but known, occurrence in fisheries using rod and reel gear to target sharks.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PMAR-00017 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-05-01)

    Catch-and-release fishing with rod and reel gear is authorized for use in shark derbies in DFO Maritimes Region (Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization divisions 4VWX and the Canadian portion of 5YZ). Rod and reel gear generally consists of a monofilament mainline, a cable leader, and a hook. Incidental bycatch of White sharks is a rare, but known, occurrence in fisheries using rod and reel gear to target sharks.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PMAR-00021), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-06-07)

    A licence has been issued to fish Atlantic halibut and other groundfish for Scientific, Experimental, or Education purposes within the Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area. This activity is part of the annual Halibut Longline Survey which is used to monitor the health of the Atlantic Halibut and other groundfish populations in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. The benthic longline gear used in this survey consists of many baited hooks attached to a mainline, which is anchored to the seafloor at either end. Incidental capture of Leatherback sea turtles, Northern wolffish, Spotted wolffish or White sharks is a possible, but unlikely occurrence.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PMAR-00028 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-08-15)

    A licence has been issued to fish Atlantic Bluefin Tuna for Scientific, Experimental, or Education purposes as part of the Wedgeport Tuna Tournament. This tournament is a vessel-based fishing competition undertaken using rod and reel gear. Incidental capture of White sharks is a possible, but unlikely occurrence.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PMAR-00029 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-09-01)

    A licence has been issued to fish Atlantic Bluefin Tuna for Scientific, Experimental, or Education purposes as part of the Halifax Tuna Tournament. This tournament is a vessel-based fishing competition undertaken using rod and reel gear. Incidental capture of White sharks is a possible, but unlikely occurrence.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PMAR-00037), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2020-01-01)

    Commercial fishing for herring and flounder with a brush weir is authorized for use by license holders in southwest Nova Scotia waters. Brush weirs are stationary fish traps consisting of stakes driven into the ocean floor with woven brush or branches and netting between the stakes. A weir is set in the intertidal zone and is designed to contain marine fish inside of the trap as the tide recedes. Incidental bycatch of White sharks has occurred in brush weirs in Atlantic Canada, although interactions are extremely rare.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PMAR-00038 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2020-04-01)

    Commercial fishing with fixed gear (e.g. benthic longline, gillnet) is authorized for use by license holders in several fleets within the multi-species groundfish fishery in DFO Maritimes Region waters, including the <45' fleet. Benthic longlines consist of many baited hooks attached to a mainline, which is anchored to the seafloor at either end. A 'set gillnet' is a wall of netting in the water column that is anchored on the seafloor. Incidental bycatch of White sharks has occurred in groundfish gillnets in DFO Maritimes Region, although interactions are extremely rare. There are no records of White shark bycatch in benthic longline gear in DFO Maritimes Region, although bycatch of this species has occurred in this gear type outside of Canadian waters.
  • >> See more Permits and Related Agreements documents

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Recovery Document Posting Plan - Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Fiscal Year 2016-2017 (2018-09-28)

    Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the competent Minister(s) must prepare a recovery strategy within one year of listing a species on Schedule 1 of SARA as endangered and within two years of listing a species as extirpated or threatened. A management plan must be prepared within three years for a species listed as special concern. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is accountable for 111 of the 518 species listed under SARA. As of February 2016, proposed recovery strategies, management plans and action plans for 57 of those species have not yet been posted to the Species at Risk Public Registry. An additional 23 aquatic species have proposed management or action plans coming due in the future. The following outlines the Department’s plan for posting proposed documents for 64 species on the Species at Risk Public Registry. The Department has a plan to post recovery strategies for 9 species, management plans for 13 species, and action plans for 42 species over the next year. Original publication of the Recovery Document Posting Plan: 2016-05-02
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