SANTA CRUZ (CBS/AP) – Federal fisheries regulators will consider whether to list West Coast great white sharks as an endangered species, a designation that could spur more research into the mysterious sea creatures.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports that the National Marine Fisheries Service had agreed to study the issue after a petition by conservation groups.

The great white population off the West Coast is estimated at less than 400, though little is known about the sharks’ reproductive success and actual numbers.

Ocean conservation groups hope the new research will lead to greater protections; especially stricter rules regulating the use of gill nets by fishermen.

NMFS will begin researching the issue and make a final determination in a process that usually takes about a year.

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