Shark Tale

Great white spotted off Tor Bay

By Lois Ann Dort    

TOR BAY – Summer brings flocks of tourists from south of the border and for the most part we expect to see them arrive starting in June. But some visitors are less expected such as the recent sighting of a great white shark approximately half a mile offshore from Tor Bay Provincial Park in Guysborough County.

On June 10 and 11 the lobster boat Ashley Dawn 08 skippered by Thomas Grover, with deck hands Nathaniel George and Haley Nickerson, spotted a tell-tale dorsal fin skimming through the waters near their boat. Quick thinking and the ubiquitous presence of smart phones meant both encounters were caught on video.

The shark was seen in an area where rock ledges break the surface; a popular spot for seals, a primary food source for great white sharks. Emily Doyle, speaking for Tor Bay Fisheries Ltd., a company owned by Grover, said that the crew were suitably surprised to see such a large animal, especially when it swam right up to the boat. “That was when they thought, ‘This is a great white, not a Mako or sunfish.’ It’s kind of early for them to be here so they were really surprised.

“Thomas said that it’s not often he gets shocked when he’s on the boat because he’s been fishing for so long, but this really shocked him, to see something, especially so close,” said Doyle last week.

The videos of the shark encounters were sent to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography for study and identification. Last week, word was received that review of the video confirmed the identity of the animal as a great white shark. Warren Joyce, an Aquatic Fisheries Technician with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada spoke to The Journal about the findings last Wednesday.

Speaking to the identification from the video of the great white, Joyce said, “We were able to see some definite differences in the colouration of the body. Typically, a white shark is white below and darker on top…The shape of the fin, the white shark has a distinctive fin as opposed to the basking shark; they’re very triangular and come to a point at the apex and then on the backside they are straight down and curved. Those were the two things that were available in the video that I saw.”

While seeing a white shark was shocking to the crew, reports of these animals in Nova Scotian waters have increased in the past decade. Joyce told The Journal that while these animals are not commonly seen, they are not an invasive species and have been reported in Nova Scotia since the 1800s. “In the past 5 to 7 years we’ve been hearing about them a little bit more. There’s more of them being tagged so we are aware of them coming into our waters…Or people are actually seeing them more and a big part of this is people with cell phones and social media and getting the word out there.”

Scientist can’t be sure, said Joyce, if the numbers are actually increasing but there is some evidence of that. And if they are increasing, many factors are at play in the species’ movement northward including warming waters. “We do know that…only a small percentage of the overall population actually comes up here. We do think it is mostly the larger animals coming up and probably looking for food based on the evidence we have so far.”

White sharks are known to eat seals, porpoises, and large fish such as tuna. They can cause damage to fishing gear; breaking through nets. “They are typically not caught on long line so that’s usually not an issue,” Joyce said.

White sharks cause a fear response in many people due to their portrayal in the media and entertainment. As with most wild animals, they have more to fear, as a population, from humans than the other way around. White sharks are on the endangered species list and are protected by the law under the Species at Risk Act. “It is against the law to harm, or harass, or hurt or kill a white shark…you basically have to leave them alone,” said Joyce.

“It’s a rare thing to see sharks around Nova Scotia…It’s something special to see, and something to enjoy. Just be cautious about it. These are wild animals and you have to give them the respect they deserve,” concluded Joyce.