A strange phenomenon has occurred in Atlantic Canada this past month, with two great white sharks having washed up on New Brunswick and Nova Scotia beaches only ten days apart. The first great white shark was found on Pointe-Sapin Beach, near Kouchibouguac National Park, NB on October 16. The other was found on October 26 in North Sydney, NS, which is located near Cape Breton Island.
Although shark sightings are uncommon, the aquatic animals are not strangers to the waters of Atlantic Canada. Aquatic specialists have identified several shark species that are known to occupy the waters of Atlantic Canada, such as the mako, greenland, basking, and porbeagle. The most sighted shark in this area of Canada is the blue shark.
On the other hand, it is rare for great white sharks to be spotted in these waters. There have only been about 40 recorded sightings documented in Atlantic Canada since 2009, which has led to many suspicions regarding the two great white sharks that have washed ashore on New Brunswick and Nova Scotia beaches within such a short time span.
What adds to this mystery is that the only predators of great white sharks are orcas and humans. Orcas are rarely spotted in Atlantic Canada, with the latest orca sighting occurring in 2018 off the coast of Cape Breton Island. In addition, great white sharks are listed as an endangered species in Canada’s Species at Risk Act, meaning that people are prohibited from harming the animals listed or touching them after they are dead. Refusing to abide by the rules detailed in this act can lead to fines of thousands of dollars or jail time.
Warren Joyce, a member of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, NS, was one of the specialists who performed a necropsy on the great white shark found October 16. He said that it seems like someone removed one of the washed-up shark’s pectoral fins as a trophy, but that there were “no obvious signs the shark was caught in fishing gear or nets.” There were also no signs of trauma that would constitute a collision with a ship. With no other signs of trauma to be found by the end of the necropsy, the team is suggesting that the shark was healthy before it died.
After the second great white shark was found in Nova Scotia on October 26, Fred Whoriskey, the executive director of the Ocean Tracking Network at Dalhousie University, agrees that it is unlikely the two great white sharks died due to attacks. “We’re probably looking at natural causes for both of these animals,” he stated in a CTV News interview. He added that the sharks could have died from a virus or bacteria, but that since scientists don’t have a good idea of what types of diseases affect white sharks, they could be investigating a disease organism that has not yet been identified by science. Contrarily, Joyce and his team theorized that the first great white shark had died trying to feed on seals close to the shore, which led to an accidental stranding.