Running along the beach in the early morning before the heat of the summer day sets in, one usually settles into a cadence that allows their mind drift off as their feet hit the sand. You might spot a fellow runner, a couple walking their dog, or seabirds fighting over a fresh catch. You don’t really expect to see a nearly 9-foot-long (2.7 meters) shark stranded along the shoreline.
But that’s exactly what happened on August 7 when a beachgoer on Prince Edward Island stumbled upon the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) on Greenwich Beach, nestled by the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Great white sharks are easily recognizable due to their robust bodies, pointed snouts, and rows of serrated, triangular teeth. Found worldwide, many don’t realize that great white sharks do call the waters off Canada home. And according to representatives from the Marine Animal Response Society (MARS), this young shark marked the fourth documented instance of a stranded great white shark on Canada’s Atlantic coast within the last year.
While this might seem alarming at first, experts are suggesting that this spate of washed up sharks could actually be indicative of positive news for the local great white population.
To put things into perspective, only one or two white shark strandings were reported in the previous two decades, as noted by Tonya Wimmer, Executive Director of MARS, a Canadian nonprofit organization. Since October, the four white sharks have been discovered washed up on the shores of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, Tonya Wimmer explained. Among these strandings, three were juvenile sharks, while one was an adult. It is possible that the recent surge in reports could be attributed to an increased willingness to report stranded sharks. But Wimmer, Executive Director of MARS, said that the anecdotal observations suggest a potential rise in the white shark population: “There’s generally a sense that there seems to be more sharks.”
She also believes the remarkable increase in sightings potentially carries encouraging implications – suggesting a potential uptick in the population of this threatened species. Great white sharks in the Atlantic are categorized as “endangered” under Canadian federal law, with the government acknowledging that the northwest Atlantic population has plummeted over 70% since the 1960s, primarily due to fishing-related bycatch. However, just south of Atlantic Canada, the white shark population has shown a remarkable recovery due to the surge in the local seal population around Cape Cod — a favorite food source for these sharks.
“We’re all crossing our fingers,” Wimmer shared with Live Science about the hope that these strandings mean there are more sharks in Canadian waters. This species has been observed from the northern reaches of Newfoundland and Labrador to the southern regions of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Additionally, there have been reports of white shark sightings in the waters of British Columbia along the Pacific coast. While sightings of great white sharks in Canada are relatively rare, they do occur. The sightings often generate interest and excitement among researchers, marine enthusiasts, and the public. Some areas, such as Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, have become known for occasional great white shark sightings.
Researchers and conservation organizations in Canada are actively studying great white sharks to better understand their behavior, movements, and ecological roles in this otherwise cold watery world.