Conservation concerns exist for many sharks but robust estimates of abundance are often lacking. Improving population status is a performance measure for species under conservation or recovery plans, yet the lack of data permitting estimation of population size means the efficacy of management actions can be difficult to assess, and achieving the goal of removing species from conservation listing challenging. For potentially dangerous species, like the white shark, balancing conservation and public safety demands is politically and socially complex, often leading to vigorous debate about their population status. This increases the need for robust information to inform policy decisions. We developed a novel method for estimating the total abundance of white sharks in eastern Australia and New Zealand using the genetic-relatedness of juveniles and applying a close-kin mark-recapture framework and demographic model. Estimated numbers of adults are small (ca. 280–650), as is total population size (ca. 2,500–6,750). However, estimates of survival probability are high for adults (over 90%), and fairly high for juveniles (around 73%). This represents the first direct estimate of total white shark abundance and survival calculated from data across both the spatial and temporal life-history of the animal and provides a pathway to estimate population trend.
News story - Sibling DNA matches provide key data for white shark population estimates - 8 February 2018