Spencer Norton was far from land when he saw splashing behind his boat.
It was a clear day in late August of this year, and the commercial fisher from P.E.I. was out with a friend looking for tuna in the water about three miles northeast of East Point.
The splashing was getting more intense. Soon birds were swarming above.
“That looks fishy,” Norton thought.
After two days of no tuna sightings, he decided it wouldn’t hurt to turn the boat around to get a better look.
As they approached, the water began to gleam with a red hue.
Norton lifted his head.
“What are we looking at?” he asked his companion.
Suddenly, the red hue began to gush a vibrant red, and a gray fin popped out of the water just next to the boat.
It was then Norton realized what he was seeing – a massive great white shark, feasting on a freshly killed grey seal.
They stayed and watched for about half an hour, and the shark, also known as a white shark, slowly waited for the seal to die before dragging it to the depths.
“I realized the splashing I had seen was the shark going in for the kill,” Norton told SaltWire Network during an interview on Sept. 2. “It was insane. You never know what you’re going to see out on the water.”
Norton has been fishing off P.E.I. for most of his life. He bought his first commercial boat in 2009, spending several years fishing bait fish such as herring or mackerel. In recent years, he has shifted mostly to tuna and lobster, making it necessary for him to be in deeper water.
Since then, Norton said he has started to encounter more sharks.
“I see there is probably an increase of white sharks. (I think) it’s because of warming waters and climate change, but it’s also the food,” he said.
White shark sightings have been steadily increasing in Atlantic Canada in the past 20 years, with over 40 sightings since 2009, said information on the government of Canada website.
There is also an estimated eight million grey seals in the water between P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador, and they are a primary source of food for white sharks.
“They come here for the food,” said Norton. “It’s prime feeding. It’s the same tuna do. They migrate here to forage, then they go back to breed. It’s the same as the sharks are doing."
For this reason, Norton said he is still not alarmed.
His advice for anyone who might be worried about a shark encounter is to not swim on beaches close to fishing grounds.
“They don’t come into shallow (areas), and they’re having a time with (grey seals). They can’t sustain being around … if there is nothing to eat.”
Heather Bowlby, research lead at the Canadian Atlantic Shark Research Laboratory at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, told SaltWire Network in a story published on July 20 despite the increased numbers, only about 20 per cent of all white sharks visit P.E.I. water.
“Today, more people know what they’re looking for, so the sightings have gone up,” said Bowlby. “The technology we use has improved, and most people on the water tend to have a camera now.”
This was the case for Norton, who said he feels lucky to have witnessed such an event and had his camera on hand.
“The uniqueness of that is insane,” said Norton. “I’ll probably never see a scenario like that ever again. I’ll probably see another shark, but never like that likely.”
Rafe Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian