A whale, er shark, of a tale?

Colin MacLean
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FRENCH RIVER, P.E.I. – Lobster fishermen Jamie Gallant and Rickey Cole, on the Olive & Laurie, were off French River Monday afternoon when they spotted an unfamiliar dorsal fin gliding above the surface of the water.

The dorsal fin and outline of a huge animal fishermen believe to be a basking shark. It was photographed off French River on P.E.I. Monday afternoon.

They were several kilometers offshore, in about 90 feet of water, retrieving their bait nets, when they spotted the fin around 3 p.m.

They motored over for a closer look – and found a huge animal cruising just under the surface.

“It was pretty much as long as the boat was. It had a black fin but then it had like white spots, big gills and big, huge, head on it,” said Gallant.

At first they thought it might have been a small whale, which they see on occasion, but upon further inspection it became clear the animal was some kind of shark.

The head alone was “about the size of a car,” he said.

Both men have been fishing for many years and neither has seen the like of it.

Gallant snapped some pictures on his iPhone.

The general consensus amongst the other fishermen on the wharf was that the animal was a basking shark, which are occasionally spotted off P.E.I., he said.

The Journal Pioneer could not confirm the type of animal that was photographed in time for press deadline Monday night.

According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world with a maximum-recorded size 12.2 meters.

Basking sharks are slow moving filter feeders – much like many species of whales. They are completely harmless to humans and are found in waters throughout the world, including on both the Pacific and Atlantic Canadian coasts.

The sharks are listed globally as a vulnerable species and are protected in Canada.

But they were not always looked upon favourably here.

From 1955 to 1969 the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had an eradication program aimed at the species – which included ramming them with blade-tipped boats.

At the time, they were believed to be a nuisance to commercial salmon fishing operations like gillnetting and trolling.

Modern threats to the species include being rammed by boats (they spend most of their time near the surface), being killed for their fins, which are highly sought after for shark fin soup in some countries and their naturally slow reproductive cycle; gestation can take nearly four years. 

Organizations: Journal Pioneer, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Geographic location: Canada

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