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Story highlights

There are only 353 to 522 great whites left in South Africa

A handful of factors have contributed to their decline

Extinction could affect the area's marine ecology

(CNN) —  

Great white sharks in South Africa could be nearing extinction, according to a new study.

Research from Stellenbosch University in South Africa shows there are only some 353 to 522 individual sharks left in the country’s waters.

“The numbers in South Africa are extremely low. If the situation stays the same, South Africa’s great white sharks are heading for possible extinction,” said Dr. Sara Andreotti of the Department of Botany and Zoology at SU and lead author of the study.

Andreotti says that the decline in the number of sharks is due to the impact of fishing – especially the implementation of shark nets and baited hooks along the country’s eastern seaboard.

But poaching, habitat encroachment, pollution and depletion of their food sources have also contributed to the decline of great whites.

Researchers note that if the great white shark population continues to decline, it could drastically affect the ecological makeup of the marine environment.

Since the sharks feed on seals, a decrease in sharks would mean a corresponding increase in the seal population, which in turn would affect the fish population.

“The survival of South Africa’s white shark population and the ecological interactions of the coastline will be seriously compromised if urgent management measures to prevent the decline are not put in place,” Andreotti said.

The findings are based on six years of fieldwork.

It’s the largest “field research study” on South Africa’s great white sharks that’s been done to date, Stellenbosch University said.