Great white shark surprises researchers by swimming to Newfoundland


A great white shark in the Great White North? That's what a team researchers have discovered, after a shark they tagged swam from the waters off North Carolina to the shores of Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula.

A team from the non-profit ocean research company Ocearch captured a 4.4 metre-long great white shark back in early March of this year, off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida. Naming the shark 'Lydia', they tagged her and tracked her movements over the past 9 months. She has shown a fairly typical range for a shark — traveling from Florida up into the open waters of the north Atlantic, then back towards New England, and down along the coast to the waters off North Carolina. However, over the past month, she took an unexpected turn. Leaving North Carolina, Lydia swam on a nearly constant northwest course until she reached the Newfoundland coast, near Marystown and Burin, along the shores of the Burin Peninsula.

According to Ian Hamilton, a shark ecologist from Memorial University, although this may be the first great white shark that's actually been found off the coast of Newfoundland, it's not shocking. In an interview with CBC News, he said that the people there and the sharks have probably been around each other for hundreds of years without knowing about it.

Gregory Skomal, the senior scientist and program manager of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, agrees, but points out something that is unusual about Lydia's path.

"Based on what we know about the historical distribution of white sharks, Lydia's movements into Canadian waters are not that surprising," said Skomal, according to Ocearch's Facebook page. "What does surprise me is that she is going there this time of year when we would expect her to be moving south. This, of course, tells us that we still don't know much about white sharks, but we are learning more very day."

The video that Ocearch filmed of the capture and tagging of Lydia is incredible. Almost like the typical description of war, their journey seemed to be 'long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of terror', although for the researchers, the 'terror' was replaced by 'excitement':

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According to Hamilton, water temperature tends to drive where sharks migrate, but it may be the large seal population around Newfoundland that drew Lydia north to cooler waters, as they are a main part of the great white's diet.

As for anyone nervous about the shark being in the area, although shark attacks draw a lot of media attention, they are actually very rare. The sad fact is that humans take a much larger toll on sharks than the other way around. Organizations like Ocearch are seeking to understand more about these incredible animals, so that we can know more about about them, in general, but also the importance of the role they play in the ocean ecology.

"It may bring a little bit of, you know, that Jaws fear back," Hamilton said in the CBC News interview. "But that's some of the myth we're trying to dispel."

(Image courtesy: Ocearch)

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