Something in the water: Shark population on the rise in Atlantic Canada, researcher says

·2 min read
More sharks have been spotted off the coasts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia according to the app, Shark Trackers, developed by research group Ocearch. (Getty Images - image credit)
More sharks have been spotted off the coasts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia according to the app, Shark Trackers, developed by research group Ocearch. (Getty Images - image credit)

Think you spotted a tell-tale triangular dorsal fin in the water off the coast of Atlantic Canada? You're not alone.

White sharks — popularly known as great white sharks — have been increasingly spotted cruising the Bay of Fundy and other waterways, with one researcher estimating that in the past summer alone, sightings have been in the thousands.

Bob Hueter, chief scientist for the U.S-based research organization Ocearch, says various factors are at play in the rise in shark sightings – starting with the fact that there are simply more of them in the water.

"The white shark population in the Northwest Atlantic, and I'm talking about along the U.S. and Canadian Atlantic Coast, is definitely increasing," Hueter said in an interview.

Hueter attributes the increase to a number of research expeditions and management plans the organization has put in place in an attempt to rebuild "a severely depleted population ... and try to get things back into balance."

The numbers are still a far cry from what they were in the 1950s and '60s, but they are rebounding, he said.

Climate change may also be playing a role in attracting great whites further north.

Hueter notes they prefers cooler, temperate water, but have a very broad temperature range, from below zero to up to 120 degrees Celsius.

"That climate change is allowing them to perhaps venture a little bit farther north and spend more time in Atlantic Canada waters in the summertime."

Once in Atlantic Canada, the sharks have access to abundant food resources like fish, seals and the occasional dead whale, Hueter said.

ocearch.org
ocearch.org

A heightened awareness of the species has also led to increased sightings, he said.

"Everybody's got a smartphone now and takes pictures, everybody posts on social media. So there's this sort of more communication about sightings that maybe in the past was just some fisherman's story that died in a bar somewhere [and] that's as far as it went."

Sharks' return a 'sign of a healthy ocean'

Hueter said Ocearch's research program has had "great success" over the past four years, getting animals tagged very reliably in certain parts of the east coast.

This year, as of early October, Ocearch had tagged 36 white sharks in Atlantic Canadian waters, he said.

They range from those in adolescence to full-grown adult sharks, with the largest shark caught and studied by the group measuring more than 17 feet in length and weighing 3,500 pounds.

The data collected is logged and used to help put the marine eco-system "back into balance," Hueter said.

"It's been out of whack for the last 50 years, and we need the system to be in balance to provide the kind of resources and sustainable food supplies that we need," he said.

"We need the ocean to be healthy, and the sharks coming back is a very good sign of a healthy ocean."

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