Massive And Rare Great White Shark Caught In Mediterranean, Sparking Criticism

A massive female great white shark was caught this week in the Mediterranean Sea near Tunisia, sparking an outpouring of criticism at the loss of a protected animal from an exceedingly rare regional population.

The shark met its end on Wednesday morning in the waters off Sousse, Tunisia, according to Grind TV. After it was caught, the great white was brought ashore and sold in a fish market for the sum of 3,000 dinars, which equates to roughly $1,500. Weighing in at nearly 4,400 pounds, the great white shark quickly became an object of local curiosity due to its impressive size. Passers-by took the opportunity to capture a selfie with the shark as it hung from a crane, waiting for the butcher’s knife. The shark was eventually cut apart as customers watched.

The loss of a large female white shark might seem trivial to onlookers, but for those aware of the species and its status in the Mediterranean, the incident takes on a larger set of implications. As the Marine Conservation Science Institute noted in a statement posted to Facebook, great white shark populations are rebounding across the world, but have faced a tough uphill battle in the Mediterranean.

Sightings of the species in the region are most often reported in Italian waters, but even then, they are rare. Just 10 major sightings of great white sharks have been reported off Italy during the last three decades. Great white pups are caught every few years, proving that a breeding population still exists in the Mediterranean, yet the loss of a mature female of reproductive age is a notable blow to an already imperiled population.

Earlier this year, a large fish was photographed swimming near tourists at the resort of Magaluf, leading to widespread speculation that it could have been a juvenile great white. It was later theorized that the animal was, in reality, a large tuna. Despite this case of apparent misidentification, over 45 species of shark most definitely inhabit the Mediterranean Sea, as the Telegraph reports.

Basking sharks, blue sharks, and even more imposing species like tiger sharks are all known to be present in the Med. Attacks on beachgoers remain exceptionally rare, however, and in spite of high-profile beach closures that took place earlier this year when a group of blue sharks were sighted off France, shark incidents are still the exception to the rule.

Despite documented population upticks worldwide (with a seasonally resident population notably developing in the northwestern Atlantic during the last decade), white sharks remain protected by the laws of most countries. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, for instance, still lists great white sharks as a protected species. In the Mediterranean, they are considered vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, while several other varieties of shark are listed as critically endangered. This designation means that those species are at a heightened risk of extinction in the region, largely due to pressures like overfishing, habitat destruction, and rampant pollution.

Social media reaction to the death of the great white shark has been largely negative, with some commenters going so far as to wish harm on the fishermen responsible for bringing it in. Regardless of the backlash, however, the loss represents one more challenge to the Mediterranean’s imperiled great white shark population as it continues to struggle in these unfriendly waters.

[Photo by Travelbag Ltd via Flickr | Cropped and Resized | CC BY 2.0]

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