“The thing about it was just the size. The thing was massive. The girth in the middle was so big,” says Nick Hawkins, a Naturalist Guide with Quoddy Link Marine tours.
“It just was a very impressive creature to be so close to.”
The tour boat pulled alongside the shark for about 10 minutes while it calmly swam in large circles.
Size estimates of the shark based on photos and videos captured by crew and passengers range from 3.5 to 6 metres.
Hawkins says the predator was apparently scouting something for dinner Monday when sighted.
“When we first spotted it, it was definitely going after something,” he says.
“About a mile after leaving the harbour we spotted some thrashing at the surface and we turned the boat around and approached the area and managed to find the shark with the dorsal just out of the water.”
“He was just cruising around slowly. We managed to get some really good looks at it.”
Shark sighting rare, expert says
Steve Campana, head of the Canadian Shark Research Lab at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia, says a sighting like this is rare, but great whites are known to swim around the Atlantic provinces.
“A typical shark is really only driven by a couple of things; one is sex and one is food. In this case, there’s no indication it was mating. It was probably cruising around in appropriate water temperatures to look for food,” says Campana. “It was probably just exploring.”
The shark’s location took Hawkins by surprise. He has been working with the whale-watching tour for five seasons.
“To see it where we did was even more unusual because we cross that body of water, the Passamaquoddy Bay, six times a day. We don’t usually slow down there because most of the wildlife is out further in the islands. There are some seals and porpoise there, which is maybe why the shark was around.”
Scientists who study sharks agree their numbers have increased about 10 to 20 per cent over the last decade in the Atlantic Ocean after reaching a low point in the 1980s and 1990s. It's not clear exactly how many there are off Canadian shores. Campana can only estimate in the order of thousands.
Still, he says swimmers and boaters have nothing to worry about.
“Nobody has been bitten by a shark of any kind in Canadian waters. It’s very safe. These whites are not particularly interested in people. Their preferred diet is something like seal.”
The sighting is one Hawkins will never forget, and he suspects the passengers won’t either.
“There were some people on the boat who had never even been on a boat before, so to get on a boat and within five minutes be right next to a great white shark, that’s pretty amazing.”
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