An entire white shark carcass was found stranded on Pointe-Sapin beach in New Brunswick, a first on the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
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“This is the first time that we have found a carcass of this species so intact here, explains Jeffrey Gallant, scientific director of the St. Lawrence Shark Observatory (ORS) for more than 20 years. We had identified a white shark tooth, found on a beach in Baie-Trinité in 2019, but never a body in such good condition.
In the Bay of Fundy, in southern New Brunswick, the phenomenon remains very rare, but a few remains had been found in recent years.
“Two white shark carcasses were found in similar circumstances in Nova Scotia in 2015 and 2011,” says Gallant. Other carcasses could have washed ashore in Atlantic Canada, including in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, without however being discovered because they were in places that were difficult to access or with little traffic.
The body was found Monday morning in Pointe-Sapin, a village located an hour north of Moncton, by a passerby who was walking on the beach. The ORS later confirmed it was a ‘young male white shark about three meters in length’, showing ‘no apparent injuries’ and ‘wearing no transmitter’.
The animal has since been secured by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, a department of the Government of Canada.
Facebook / Pierrette Landry
“A technician was dispatched to the scene to carry out a necropsy and find out the exact causes of death,” explains Dr. Heather Bowlby, researcher at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, attached to the ministry.
For his part, Jeffrey Gallant leans towards the hypothesis of an accidental death and which would potentially not be linked to human activity.
“It’s a young shark, and there is not much water depth there, it is possible that due to lack of experience it got stranded while hunting seals”, supports the specialist, n’ also not excluding that the shark could have been “accidentally caught, then released in a state that did not allow it to survive”.
A growing number of reports
While the presence of white sharks on the Canadian Atlantic coast is not uncommon, the number of reports has been on the rise in recent years.
“There is definitely a significant increase in sightings in the Gulf of St. Lawrence at a frequency that we did not see before, assures Jeffrey Gallant. In 2017, reports of white sharks in the Magdalen Islands were anecdotal. In 5 years, it has become almost normal to see them.
The presence of white sharks has been better documented in recent years, thanks in particular to the work of the American maritime research organization Ocearch, which places transmitters on sharks to follow their movement in the Maritimes. But the ORS is also reporting more sightings from fishermen and boaters.
“It has become predictable to see them if you go to certain places, especially on the coast of the Magdalen Islands, which is the 2e largest reserve of gray seals in the world”, explains the scientific director of the ORS.
With a team of volunteers made up of diving, videography and underwater ecology specialists, Jeffrey Gallant and his colleagues had also set sail for Brion Island in September in search of white sharks.
“Barely a few hours after our arrival on the site, we had already documented the presence of a shark attacking a seal,” says Mr. Gallant. The images will be the subject of a documentary which will soon be unveiled to the general public.
More sharks on the Quebec coasts?
According to Jeffrey Gallant, the possibility of seeing more and more white sharks on the Quebec coasts in the coming years is likely.
“It’s not impossible, and we recently saw a white shark tagged by Ocearch near Grande-Rivière in Gaspésie,” says the researcher. The shark is mainly looking for food, and in Percé, there are a lot of seals. The manager of the Club Nautique de Percé also sent us a photo of a gray seal that had a very large and very deep bite. We know it’s the work of a great white shark.”