08/20/2012 06:43 pm ET Updated Aug 21, 2012

California Great White Shark Sightings Come Amidst Renewed Efforts At Protection (PHOTOS)

Recent weeks have seen a flurry of great white shark sightings in the waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast from the San Francisco Bay, just as local conservationists are looking to protect the threatened population of the iconic fish.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that over the course of the past month, two local fishermen have had up close and personal encounters with the fearsome predators.


The first story came from Daly City resident Jim Robertson, an avid salmon fisherman who saw a shark while attempting to bring in a 20 pounder about eight miles off the San Francisco coastline.

"On the side of the boat, we saw this massive splash," Robertson told the Chronicle. "I looked over and saw the fin and shouted to everybody, 'That's a great white!' I knew what it was right off…Then the great white came up and made a giant swirl around the fish. You could see his back, his dorsal, his tail. The first pass, he chopped off that big salmon right behind the two front fins. A 20-pounder cut clean."

When Robertson reeled in the line, he found the shark had bitten most of his catch clean off.

The second story came courtesy of angler Rich Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was boating off the coast of Marin Country when he was spied a half-eaten sea lion carcass in the water. When he went over to check it out, he saw a massive shark pop up from the depths and swallow the second half.

Despite these two recent sightings, a study of the region's great white shark population last year discovered their number to be significantly lower than anticipated. Using photos examining the unique dorsal fins and then employing statistical models to extrapolate that data, researchers estimated there are only around 219 great white sharks swimming off the Northern California coast.

Other estimates for the size of the west coast great white population range up to about 350 individual sharks.

"This low number was a real surprise," Taylor Chapple, a researcher at UC Davis who worked on the project, explained to the Christian Science Monitor. "It's lower than we expected, and also substantially smaller than populations of other large marine predators, such as killer whales and polar bears,"

This study was the first of its kind measuring the number of great whites in the area, so its difficult to know if the numbers are rising or falling. However, the small population has given many conservationists cause for concern.

On Monday, a coalition of environmental groups filed a petition with the California Fish and Game Commission to have the West Coast population of Grate White sharks placed on the state's endangered species list.

"California's iconic ocean predator, the great white shark, is in trouble and there must be action taken," Oceana California Program Director Geoff Shester said in a statement. "Letting great whites disappear would be like taking lions out of the Serengeti--it just wouldn’t be the same."

It's already against state law to hunt for great whites and buy or sell shark body parts. This petition seeks to put increased regulation on certain types of fishing nets that regularly ensnare young pups.

"Once caught in the net the sharks often die," wrote activist Andrew Sharpless with "Mad Men" actress January Jones in a recent blog on The Huffington Post. "Of the reported fishery interactions in the past 30 years, there have been an average of at least 10 white shark interactions per year and over 80% of the great white sharks caught in their nursery grounds are caught by these gillnetters. However, these are only reported interactions, and the actual bycatch is likely much higher. Fishermen are not allowed legally to target or sell these sharks; but, there is no law prohibiting gillnetters from setting their nets in great white nursery grounds, nor are there limits on the bycatch of white sharks in U.S. or Mexican fisheries."

A similar petition was filed earlier this month National Marine Fisheries Service in an effort to also get federal protections.


Speaking of sharks, check out this auto-tuned Shark Week remix: