BEDFORD – A warm July day at the beach, the sun sparkling off the rippling waves. A great day for a swim. Yet as your toe touches the water, the idea flashes through your brain: What about sharks?
There’s good news and bad news about the ocean’s apex predators. Sharks are virtually no threat to swimmers in local waters. But if you dread the idea of sharks being anywhere within a hundred miles of your bathing spot, better stick with fresh water: They’re here.
“You’re actually in a pretty neat location,” said Ana Dorey, a biologist with the Canadian Shark Research Laboratory – part of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.
Fourteen species call the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf Shore home and another five are occasional visitors. One of the uncommon species found in Fundy is the short-fin mako
“I wouldn’t dive with them, that’s for sure,” said Dorey.
“One of the world’s fastest sharks,” its slender teeth are visible when the animal’s mouth is closed, and it can grow to 13 feet.
It’s an impressive predator. It eats squid, fish – big ones, like tuna and swordfish – other sharks and sometimes porpoises, according to the biologist. It’s one of the species she said should be treated with extreme caution.
Another one that warrants that label has to be the white shark. Yes, the great white. They’re here. Not common, no, but here. Last summer saw a dead juvenile found on Fundy’s shore. A 17-footer was caught off PEI back in 1983.
Dorey said a dead white shark is found in Atlantic Canada every two or three years, but she’s not aware of any live sightings.
The most commonly viewed shark in Atlantic Canada’s waters is the blue.
“They’re absolutely gorgeous to see,” said the researcher of the “elegant” fish, which can grow up to 13 feet.
“They’re kind of like the crows of the ocean.”
Dorey said just about anything that can be thrown off a boat can appear in a blue shark’s stomach. She’s personally seen beer cans, plastic, a balloon and cardboard. They also scavenge off dead animals.
Sometimes species are misidentified. Makos turn out to be porbeagles, for example, a shark found on both of Cumberland’s coasts. The porbeagle is typically a metre and a half but “very stout.”
“They’re strictly fish eaters…not particularly fearsome.”
Small dogfish also live in both bodies of water. But at the other end of the size spectrum, and found only on the Gulf side, is the Greenland shark – a little-known species that’s “very rarely encountered.”
“(They’re) very plump and prehistoric looking.”
The Greenland can be up to 16 feet long. It seems sluggish – “seems” because it manages to feed on fast-moving animals such as seals and sea lions.
It all sounds very menacing, but it shouldn’t be. The lab is the foremost shark research facility in the province, and they have no record of a shark attack on a person in Nova Scotia. Most of the species are found far from shore, said Dorey. But all of them should be treated with respect