'More than we expected': Ocearch spots 5 great white sharks off Cape Breton

Five great white sharks have been spotted and three of them have been tagged in Ocearch's latest expedition off the coast of Cape Breton.

"I think that is more than we expected, especially when we're only about halfway through the trip," Chris Fischer, the founder and expedition leader of Ocearch, said in a phone interview on Sunday.

The U.S.-based shark research organization is currently off Scatarie Island, near Hay Island.

They started around Sept. 14 and expect to be out until Oct. 4. Then the next stop is West Ironbound Island on Oct. 6.

Two of the tagged sharks are mature males, Murdoch and Sydney, and the other is a mature female named Unama'ki.

Robert Snow/Ocearch

Sydney was 3.7 metres long, Murdoch was 3.9 metres long and Unama'ki was 4.7 metres long. In addition to being tagged, each shark received a full health assessment.

"So, interesting to see that all the sharks we've engaged with out here have all been fully mature animals," Fischer said. "I think that's something significant that was different than what we saw down in Lunenburg last year."

Off Lunenburg, Fischer said they sampled seven animals — five males, two females — and only three were mature. The others were "sub-adults."

'The trip's already made'

Temperatures off Scaterie Island, Fischer said, are "a little cold" but that "doesn't seem to have run off the sharks."

Prior to making the trip to the island, Fischer said he had no idea what to expect. He said they were hopeful because Hilton, a celebrity great white shark with more than 51,000 followers on Twitter, was traced in those waters last year.

"Having three sharks already tagged, for me, the trip's already made," Fischer said. "When you're coming to a place no one has ever been before and you don't know what's going to happen, that's a pleasant surprise."

The goal of the shark research is to find out as much as possible about the Canadian great white shark — where it  forages, mates, gives birth, migrates and where females gestate.

"And that's so you can keep the recovery going because as the white shark goes, the whole system goes," he said. "If the white sharks are thriving up here, there's going to be more fish for your commercial and recreational fisheries."

Fischer says there are "hundreds and hundreds of seals" around Scaterie Island.

Robert Snow/Ocearch

He said past research has indicated that when there are great white sharks around, seals feed one-fourth as much each day as they do when white sharks aren't there.

"So as the white shark population recovers, it will keep those seals pinned up on the beach," he said. "They stay there until they're almost starving and then they go out and get a little food and then they get back out because they might get eaten."

Details on shark tracking are on Ocearch's website.

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