Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water

The Ritcey Report

Written by Lynn Healy-Goulet
October 19, 2017

As you probably know a great white shark has been recently detected near Halifax — the second great white spotted in Nova Scotia in a month — prompting at least some people to stay out of the water.

Hilton, as the shark is known, has been travelling north along the southern coast of Nova Scotia for a week and a half, according to research group Ocearch.

Skurfing cancelled until further notice

As was reported in the local media, Rebecca South of Mahone Bay said she and some friends cancelled their usual Wednesday habit of skurfing — riding a surfboard towed behind a speedboat — because it would take them to an open-sea area in which Hilton has roamed.

“Often sharks attack surfboards because they mistake them as seals, and that’s what we’re on. So we’ve just been talking about that and opted not to go today,” said Ms. South, owner of Rebecca’s Restaurant in Mahone Bay, adding: “Even though it’s beautiful and wonderful outside … you know for 100% sure that yes, there is a great white shark in and around Mahone Bay.”

Pumpkin and Lydia

This, of course, has not been the only sighting of great white sharks in our area. In late July, a 300-kilogram great white shark affectionately known as Pumpkin was detected in Nova Scotia’s Minas Basin as she feasted on an abundance of seals.

And in November of last year, a 900-kilogram great white named Lydia — who like Hilton has her own Ocearch-managed Twitter account — was among two great whites tracking off Nova Scotia. Ocearch chair Chris Fischer was quoted as saying white sharks could be using Nova Scotia’s Sable Island as a place to mate.

Shark facts

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy says the animal is the largest predatory fish in the world, with a powerful jaw full of serrated teeth and a body that can weigh up to 1,800 kilograms. It reports that the population in the North Atlantic has dropped by 75% in the past 15 years and is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as ‘vulnerable’.

Just for the record, the vast majority of shark sightings around the waters of Nova Scotia are of basking sharks, porbeagles, spiny dogfish or blue sharks. Blue sharks have also been abundant off Nova Scotia for some time, but seldom stray into waters less than 100′ deep. White sharks can grow up to 21 feet in length and studies have shown that some can travel up to 190km in 2.5 days. They tend to be found in Canadian waters during the months of August and September.

Hilton could seek out the Northumberland Strait

If Hilton sticks around he could have lots of company, said a Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries shark expert, Warren Joyce, adding that there is a possibility Hilton could swim into the Northumberland Strait.

Mr. Joyce observed that great whites have been in Nova Scotia waters since the 1920s, but with advances in technology, their presence is becoming more known to the general public: “You would hear about them every three to five years,” he said, “but with more recent technology and groups that can now give them satellite tags you can track them. There are also more people on the water now with cameras.”

Mr. Joyce also mentioned that a great white 17 feet and two inches long was caught in cod fishing gear off Prince Edward Island in 1983. It drowned after being caught in the gear, was taken to shore and buried before many people knew about it. He said a great white shark was also spotted in St. Margaret’s Bay in 2016.

19 different species of sharks in Atlantic Canada waters

“There are 19 different species of sharks in Atlantic Canada waters,” he said. “Literally, there are millions of sharks out there.” Mr. Joyce said there has never been a shark attack in Canadian waters, but people should still be cautious if they see one. “Don’t panic and use some common sense,” he said.

Finally he advised: “Don’t go swimming alone in the ocean. Don’t go near seal colonies. They usually try to avoid people but they are large wild animals and predatory.”

Dave Ritcey, The Ritcey Team, Scotia Wealth Management