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Hunted to the brink of extinction during the 70s and 80s, the most feared and misunderstood killer of the seas seems to be staging a comeback in South Africa. But such was the damaged inflicted on the great white shark in the aftermath of Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster film 'Jaws' and so little actually known about this peerless predator that the future is far from certain.

"The alarm has been raised on the white shark, which is a great improvement from 10 years ago. But it could be too little, too late," said a spokesman of the first Jaws film. "There is too little knowledge of their longevity, feeding habits or mortality from fishing and poaching."

"They are already showing signs of recovery," said a member of the South African White Shark Research Institute. "If we can sustain their food supplies, they will recover."

Great white sharks, which can grow up to seven meters in length and four tons in weight over a lifetime, variously put at between 25 and 50 years, are now a protected species in most parts of the world. It is a far cry from the time when professional hunters and trophy seekers took to the waves of California, South Africa and Western Australia the main areas of concentration in search of the animal's huge jaws.

Before the film, you could get white shark jaw sets for nothing. After that, they suddenly became unavailable. Even today, a big set of jaws which can be up to 2 meters across, can fetch up to US$50,000, with smaller sets changing hands for around US$15,000. The main problem caused by this hunting was that it focused on the bigger animals the females which only reach sexual maturity after about 15 years and are believed to breed just a few times during their lives.

With no natural enemies and a long life span, the rate of what scientists call 'recruitment' of new shark pups is very slow. Killing breeding females threatens the entire white shark population. There was in fact a steep decline in the adult female population and an equally sharp drop in the number of smaller animals two decades ago. Today, there are some signs that the smaller ones are growing to maturity and hopefully, they will breed.

The trouble is that the biggest single threat to the sharks is humans. There is still some poaching of the white shark, both for its jaws and for its dorsal fin, considered expensive and macho delicacy in the rich dining tables of China. The trade in shark fins, which is not illegal except for white sharks, is all controlled by the Chinese and Taiwanese triads. Hong Kong used to be the main market, but now mainland China is taking over.

One of the main problems still facing white sharks is competitions between the various research bodies. "The white shark has become the Holy Grail. There is a lot of ego, a lot of competition. What we need is partnerships," said a research scientist. "Jaws did a lot of damage to the white shark, but it might not have all been negative. No one at the time understood enough to realize we were portraying the animal very differently from the truth. But I hope the spin-off from Jaws has been positive for white sharks and outweighs the bounty it put on their heads.

From paragraph 1 :
  1.

Explain why the future of the white shark is far from certain ?

   

From paragraph 5 :

  2.

(a) Give one reason why the white shark is hunted.

(b) What has accelerated the hunting of white sharks ?

    From paragraph 5 - 6 :
  3.

(a) Why do hunters prefer to hunt female white sharks ?

(b) What is the effect of hunting female white sharks ?

    From paragraph 6 - 7 :
  4.

Why are humans considered as the biggest single threat to the white sharks ?

    From paragraph 8 :
  5.

(a) What is meant by the 'Holy Grail' ?

(b) We are told that the film 'Jaws' has don a lot of damage to the white shark, but it 'might not have all been negative'. Explain why it might not have been negative.

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Answers
 

1.

Little is known about it and there has been rampant hunting of it.

 

2.

(a) It is hunted for its jaws.

(b) The movie 'Jaws' has aroused interest in the sharks' jaws and accelerated the hunting of them.

 

3.

(a) It is because they are the biggest with the biggest jaws.

(b) It has resulted in a steep decline in adult female population, thus threatening the entire shark population.

 

4.

In its natural habitat, the sharks have no natural enemies and their life span is long. However, as a result of illegal poaching, man has become the biggest single threat to their existence.

 

5.

(a) It means 'a prized item that everyone attempts to get or protect'.

(b) While the film 'Jaws' has accelerated the hunting for white sharks, it ahs also aroused a lot of interest among conservationists, leading to the finding of the actual situation of the misunderstood killer. In the process, efforts have been taken to protect them.

 
 
 
 
 

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Comprehension 1

 

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