Increased shark activity reported on Northeast seaboard

Posted Aug. 18, 2011, at 7:23 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 18, 2011, at 7:42 p.m.

SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick — Has ‘Jaws’ set his sights on New Brunswick?

A great white shark caught in a fisherman’s weir in Bay of Fundy waters provides more evidence of increased shark activity along the Northeastern seaboard this summer.

The 3-yard-long, nearly 600-pound shark found tangled in Wayne Linkletter’s net is the first confirmed sighting in Atlantic Canada in nearly a decade.

The Nova Scotia fisherman hauled in the juvenile predator and donated the head to the Museum of Natural History in Halifax.

“We will use the jaw for display here at the museum,” spokesman Jeff Gray said Thursday. “We have a fairly large collection but we don’t have a great white so it’s nice to be able to fill in that hole.”

While catching a shark in the Bay of Fundy is rare, the number of shark sightings in the region is on the rise this summer.

Beaches in Massachusetts have been closed to swimming as sharks lurk closer to shore in search of big fish and seals.

Tony LaCasse, spokesman for the New England Aquarium, said a combination of factors have led to increasing shark sightings.

“The primary white shark habitat in New England is off the elbow of Cape Cod, where there is a national wildlife refuge,” he said. “The reason the white sharks are being seen more is because there has been a big recovery in the grey seal population there.”

LaCasse said sharks are drawn to the large, blubbery animals, which explains why more sharks are prowling in nearby waters.

Another factor that explains increased shark sightings is that there are more of them, he said.

“After the movie ‘Jaws’ came out in the 1970s the shark population was really hammered,” he said. “Great white sharks became a big trophy fish and they weren’t protected. There were a lot of them caught by charter fishermen out of Long Island.”

LaCasse said the shark population takes decades to recover because of a slow sexual maturity and low fertility.

But LaCasse said beachgoers in both New England and New Brunswick have a higher chance of hitting a deer or moose on the way to the beach or being robbed while suntanning than being attacked by a shark.

“Humans are not on the menu,” he said. “Great white sharks are not interested in people.”

Although snaring a great white shark in the Bay of Fundy is rare, sharks are not uncommon in the Maritimes, said Steven Campana, head of the Canadian Shark Research Lab at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth.

“There are probably in the order of 300 million sharks in Atlantic Canada,” he said, noting that most — like the spiny dogfish — are only a threat to smaller fish.

“When you go swimming around here people don’t want to hear it but there are sharks probably close to all of our beaches,” he said. “But people don’t notice them because sharks tend to avoid humans.”

Campana said Atlantic Canada is part of the “normal hunting grounds” for great white sharks but that population decline in past years has made sightings more rare.

“I suspect that great whites have been in our waters every summer since time immemorial,” he said. “The Bay of Fundy is a productive area so the sharks are likely drawn to larger fish like salmon tuna or big stripe bass.”

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