Scientists believe they have discovered a hunting ground for young white sharks near the Magdalen Islands, an extraordinary discovery considering the many mysteries surrounding this species.
“As soon as we arrived at Brion Island, we saw many gray seal carcasses strewn along the shores. The fact that they hadn’t been completely devoured suggests to us that the predators weren’t very experienced,” says biologist Jeffrew Gallant.
With his colleagues who specialize in diving, videography and underwater ecology from the St. Lawrence Shark Observatory, the scientist set sail in early September for the natural aquatic reserve of Brion Island, located 16 kilometers north of Grosse Île. The team was able to bring back images of a great white shark attack on a seal, a world first according to him.
Given the difficulty of approaching this large predator in cold waters with capricious currents, formal evidence of its presence is very rare. “It was the first time I saw a great white shark in the St. Lawrence,” testifies the adventurer who has been studying sharks for 25 years.
Even if it is very studied throughout the world, the great white shark, whose jaws had been the subject of the film jaws, by Steven Spielberg in 1975, still holds many mysteries. We do not know where the young are born and grow up.
If we know the birthing sites of much larger animals such as rorquals or sperm whales, it is because these marine mammals must breathe at the surface. This makes it much easier to track them down. “Sharks stay hidden deep down. Only the rare specimens equipped with a transmitter on their dorsal fin and which swim on the surface long enough to emit a signal can be momentarily identified”, specifies Mr. Gallant.
The presence of the great white shark in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is not new since teeth have been found in the ornamentation of pre-colonial Aboriginal burials. The first fatal attack of a white shark in these parts on a human dates back to 1691.
Global warming could play a role in its frequentation of northern waters by allowing it to remain present longer along our coasts, ie from June to November rather than during the few weeks of summer.
The 12-day trip was cut short as Hurricane Fiona, which swept across the East Coast, approached last weekend.
At the helm of the Écomaris, a 26m sailboat that carried the group offshore, Simon Paquin is already preparing for the next trip. “The white shark is the biggest predator of the seas but remains poorly understood. We have a great opportunity to study it in its ecosystem as we are in the midst of the decade of the oceans according to the UN”, says the sailor who is already on the hunt for funding for the next mission.
The Great White Shark in a nutshell
- The Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) can measure up to 6 meters and weigh 2 tons (1900 kg).
- The largest carnivorous fish in the world, the Great White Shark can live up to 73 years.
- Coming up the waters of the Gulf Stream from the southern seas to feed on fish and marine mammals, its presence in Canada has been documented for centuries. In fact, more of this species are reported on the east coast than on the west coast.
- It is prohibited to fish it in Canada because it is on the list of endangered species, but accidental captures do occur on occasion.
- The largest specimen reported in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (and which turned out to be one of the largest in the world) measured 5.23 m and was 17 years old. He was captured in Prince Edward Island in 1983.
- Although experts deplore the exaggeration of the dangers associated with deadly attacks by sharks on humans, the species remains dangerous because it feeds on anything in its path, and its teeth are designed to kill.
- The last fatal shark attack took place in the United States (State of Maine) in 2020. None have been reported in Canada. In 1953 in Cape Breton a boat was attacked and a man died but drowned.
- Are there more white sharks than before? “We don’t know because it’s currently impossible to count them,” replies Jeffrey Gallant. The mentions are more numerous but perhaps simply because the means of reporting the observations are more accessible, via social networks and the Web.
Source: St. Lawrence Shark Observatory