Basin Head visitors got a bit of a scare Wednesday after swimming on the northeastern Prince Edward Island beach had to be stopped due to a suspected shark sighting.
Swimming was shut down for around an hour after noon when lifeguards determined a shark could be swimming nearby.
"One of the more common reasons that sharks come close to shore in Prince Edward Island is they're on the hunt for food," provincial lifeguard co-ordinator Matt Smith told CBC News.
"[Staff] noticed that there were two seals swimming around in close proximity to the supervised area, and as well, an increase of birds such as seagulls and gannets flying around that same area."
Lifeguards spotted a shark fin breaking through the water a couple of times east of the supervised beach area, and about 100 to 200 metres offshore.
Smith said the lifeguards got everyone out of the water in a calm and organized manner. It's not known at this moment how many people were at the beach at the time.
Earlier this month, a Cape Breton woman was injured off Margaree Island after being attacked by what is believed to be a great white shark. There hasn't been a shark attack in Canadian waters since 1870.
"Given the recent sightings around the Atlantic provinces, and now on P.E.I. as well, our lifeguards are absolutely going to be vigilant for sharks and always vigilant for people swimming at the beaches as well," Smith said.
White shark population increasing
According to Ocearch, a U.S.-based shark-tracking organization, the white shark population around P.E.I. is increasing, but people are also on the lookout for sharks more than before.
"The observations of white sharks has gone up," said Bob Heuter, chief scientist for Ocearch.
"And part of that, we think, is because we're just looking specifically for them and we have the tools now to find them and put these tracking devices on them."
Heuter said the shark population is growing due to conservation measures that have been put in place in both the U.S. and Canada.
Climate change is also a factor.
"There could be a shifting to the north with warmer water temperatures," said Heuter.
Chances of getting shark bite 'infinitesimally small'
Heuter said for any swimmers or boaters concerned about sharks, it's best to use common sense, and remember that there are probably sharks nearby.
"You don't want to go swimming in their food … certainly don't frolic around seals nearby because their predators might be right there," he said.
Heuter also recommended avoiding areas where there are large schools of fish or where people are fishing.
"Look at the ocean. Kind of size it up before you go, realize it's a wild place," he said.
"But please enjoy the ocean. I mean, the chances of a shark biting you are infinitesimally small."
Try to record shark sightings
Heuter said if you do see a shark, try to get a photo or video of it, and contact Ocearch about your sighting.
"Celebrate the fact that that animal is there. That's a good sign that that area is healthy and that the ocean's coming back," he said.
Matt Smith said any shark sightings should also be reported to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. People can report sightings online on this page.
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