Overall population estimates for great whites are unknown and even regional and localised estimates are uncertain. White sharks are slow-growing animals with low productivity and are therefore highly vulnerable.
Indeed, today South Australia, great whites have all but disappeared due
to overfishing. Still, a network was recently set up there to report all great white occurrences to scientists in
order to make management plans for the conservation of the species. By the end of 1996 New South Wales’ and Tasmania’s Fisheries Regulations protected great whites.
In South Africa, protection for the great white was a world first, thanks in large part to a long-term research
programme organized by the Shark Research Centre, Cape Town. Researchers, conservation groups, sport
and commercial fishing interests and private citizens joined a debate that resulted in the 1991 Act that
include a total ban on intentionally catching, molesting and commercially utilizing great whites (or parts like
jaws), with heavy penalties for violators.
Trophy fishing is not the only cause of great white population decline in Australia and South Africa. Also
important is mortality caused by the commercial fishing industry, which is difficult to assess because of
reporting problems. Between 22 to 61 great whites per year were taken in the anti-shark nets of
KwaZulu-Natal between 1974 to 1988, with declining numbers in recent years.
Much emotional debate, as with that aimed at protecting the great white, has centered on the KwaZulu-Natal
nets. Probably central to the debate is that the vast majority of sharks caught and killed have never been
implicated in attacks on humans and most likely would not attack unless provoked. Reactions to the nets run
gamut from keeping the nets up to protect the public at all costs from mindless killers,
to a complete ban on the nets for all time, thus making people who venture into sharks territory take
responsibility for their actions.
At present, the World Conservation Union lists the white shark as "vulnerable".
The world's oceans stay healthy because every organism has a part in the complex food web. When any component of this web is removed or reduced the balance in the system is upset. Sharks feed on the sick and dying, and feed on larger animals such as whales, seals and tuna, which have few predators. Their conservation is thus vitally important.