White shark recovery strategy planned

Caitlin Coombes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has proposed a recovery strategy for white sharks in Atlantic Canada after 13 years of research. 

The species has been identified as endangered under the Species at Risk Act since 2011, with an estimated population reduction of 70 per cent since the 1960s. 

In Canadian waters, the sharks can be found in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec. 

Paige Crowell, recovery biologist in the species at risk program with DFO, spoke to SaltWire about the proposal, explaining the years of research behind and ahead of the plan.

“Whenever any species is listed as endangered, threatened or extripated under SARA (the Species at Risk Act) we are required to produce a number of documents for them and the first of those documents is a recovery strategy,” Crowell said in an interview on April 25. 

A recovery strategy explains how and why the species in question has been designated as at risk, what threats the species faces in Canadian waters and an estimation of what an ideal population would look like, Crowell said. 

“It really is a roadmap for recovery of the species, so where it’s at now, and what needs to happen to help it recover,” Crowell said.  

The population of white sharks identified for protection under the DFO’s recovery plan ranges from Newfoundland to Mexico and is considered a sub-section of the broader Northwest Atlantic region. 

“It’s hard to get a sense of exactly how many (there are) when they are so wide ranging,” Crowell said. 

Island sightings

Shark encounters and sightings are unpredictable in the waters around P.E.I., due in part to the smaller population and the species’ solitary behaviours. 

Individual tagged sharks have helped show researchers how mobile the species is, gathering infrequently throughout their more than 40-year lifetimes. 

Apryl Munro, external engagement officer for the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) told SaltWire in a written statement on April 23 that there have been very few shark encounters in P.E.I. reported to the AVC in recent years.

“The only shark we had was last year the shark that washed ashore in Greenwich,” Munro wrote.  

This shark was found deceased, and the AVC is awaiting results from tests conducted on the shark. Sharks found in Nova Scotia have also been transported to the AVC for postmortem testing. 

Next steps

The white shark recovery proposal was under public review until April 20, with members of the public across Canada able to submit comments and suggestions regarding the recovery plan. 

The department is now reviewing these public opinions and will tailor the recovery proposal as the plan moves forward, Crowell said. 

Recovery of the white sharks will take several decades, owing to the species’ long life and slow reproductive rate. 

The recovery plan will still take several years of research to come into effect, and researchers will continue to gather data and study the northeast Atlantic Canada white shark population. 

“It’s not one person’s lifetime or career that will see recovery, it’s a lot more long-term. It’s nice to think it’s a communal effort across industry and government and public,” Crowell said. 

Anyone who encounters a shark in Atlantic Canada is encouraged to report the sighting to the DFO, and those curious about tagged sharks can observe tracking data from tagged white sharks online. 

Caitlin Coombes is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government. She can be reached by email at caitlin.coombes@saltwire.com and followed on X @caitlin_coombes.