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US considers protecting great whites

WASHINGTON — The federal government will examine whether to protect the West Coast population of great white sharks under the Endangered Species Act, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

Four environmental groups have filed petitions with the NOAA Fisheries Service to list the West Coast population on the grounds that accidental catches, illegal fishing, and the accumulation of contaminants threaten the iconic species.

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Research studies suggest that there are as few as 350 great white sharks off the coasts of the United States and Mexico.

Craig Wingert, a regional Endangered Species Act policy adviser for NOAA, said the agency will assemble a scientific team to conduct a comprehensive review and will issue a final decision by June.

It is already illegal to kill great whites off US coasts in either the Pacific or Atlantic. An endangered species listing would allow the federal government to designate critical habitat for the West Coast population of great white sharks and possibly impose restrictions on other activities that threaten it.

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