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'I’d still go swimming'
For the past few weeks, four great white sharks tagged and tracked by Ocearch have been hanging around the southern tip of Nova Scotia, with another especially close to Cape Breton.
As recently as Aug. 11, a great white named Brunswick has been making the waters around Îles-de-la-Madeleine his temporary prowling grounds. Just last month he swam by the eastern coast of Cape Breton, which concerns some locals who recreate and swim in the water.
Fred Maidment, a Glace Bay resident who frequently swims at Dominion beach, said he is always leery about great white sharks and jellyfish.
“If more sharks were coming out here it would concern me, then I’d definitely have to keep my eyes out.”
For Tiffany Caines of Glace Bay, the idea of great whites around Cape Breton is scary.
“It kind of scares me. Me and my brother use a site that you can go on and track great whites. We were watching Hilton, and that other one Cabot,” she said.
Her brother Johnny Caines agreed.
“If I saw one, we’d be gone.”
Trevor Avery is a marine biologist and associate professor with the biology department at Acadia University. While his work mainly focuses on striped bass, he is knowledgeable on sharks. He said great whites around Cape Breton and Nova Scotia shouldn’t be a concern — or a surprise.
“Now that they’re tagged people know they’re there, and think ‘Oh my god, we got great white sharks swimming around,’ when really they’ve always been there,” Avery said.
The sharks are tagged with an array of devices that upload data to satellites to give information on current locations and where sharks might be travelling next.
“The tags people are tacking online are satellite tags, and they just capture information when the shark surfaces and uploads it to a satellite,” he said. “They also have timed devices, so after a certain period of time they’ll see pings from the shark, and acoustic tags which the sharks have to swim by a receiver to pick up.”
Since the sharks can be tracked online regularly, it might give some people the impression that there is an increase of great whites prowling the waters.
“It’s very unlikely this is a new occurrence; white sharks travel the entire ocean.”
It’s not just great white sharks, several species of shark swim in our coastal waters, including spiny dogfish sharks, blue sharks, thresher sharks and mako sharks.
“There are pretty incredible photos of thresher sharks and makos jumping out of the water around the ferry from St. John to Digby.”
While shark attacks do happen, it’s usually a case of mistaken identity with swimmers or surfers resembling prey typical to sharks.
“I’ll put it this way: I’d still go swimming,” he said. “I don’t think people should be worried about that, it’s really only in areas where you have an overlap of prey where bites can happen, usually from people swimming close to the surface.”
Great white sharks typically spend most of their time in temperate waters, but do like to travel in search of prey.
“They move around a lot because their resources move around a lot, so you might find a great white off Sable Island feeding on seals,” he said. “Sharks are free-ranging animals, so they’re probably following food sources.”
The Bay of Fundy is a very productive area when it comes to feeding for sharks, and some fishers in the area have had run-ins with them.
“They can get striped bass right off people’s hooks sometimes,” he said. “They’re probably not eating them in general because striped bass are very fast, and typically great whites ambush their prey from the bottom.”
When it comes to the perceived dangers with great whites and other sharks swimming around Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, Avery said the fear of sharks is often misplaced, and sharks are here to stay.
“It’s a little blown out of proportion for sure. Sharks will always be out in our waters.”