• Christopher Stephens, MSc

Great White Sharks in Canada

Updated: May 26

An Honest Look at Earth's Most Dangerous Endangered Fish

A Great White Shark off Mexico. Headed for Canada?

Canada does not have Great white sharks. That's an exotic danger. At least California's reason for caution. Or Australia's. Are we correct? Wrong! Great White Sharks are firstly not a tropical fish per se. Though the real life sea monsters occur in tropical waters, they actually prefer waters ranging from 54 to 75 °F. Carcharodon carcharias is a living fossil, the last shark of its type and a relative of the extinct Megalodon.

Climate change and environmental modification has changed the ranges of many species. In Canada, we now have birds occurring with some regularity that were from the Southern USA at one time. Since the Lewis and Clark and Audubon, the landscape and seascape have changed. As ocean waters warm and sea lions and seals remain present, that may mean more sharks, more encounters and if precautions are not taken, more bites as human activities increase in potential shark habitat.

At this time, Great white shark sightings in Canada occur primarily off the East Coast, where the species is designated as endangered under Canada's Species at Risk Act (SARA). Off the Pacific Coast of Canada, the Great white shark is "data deficient" with only 14 sightings recorded in 14 years. Yet, the Pacific Northwest has a vast seascape with many observation challenges. A lower human presence than much of the world's oceans means less observer effort, meaning occurrences may be under reported.

About 100 shark attacks happen yearly worldwide, but just a tiny group of shark species are responsible. But the statistics are interesting, for fully half of all attacks are the work of just the Great White Shark. The biggest predatory fish on Earth, Great white sharks can exceed 20 feet and weigh 5,000 pounds. But while these sharks can be dangerous, the risk that is greatest is the threat from humans to sharks, which are invaluable keepers of the balance in the ocean ecosystem. While Covid-19 has us attuned to small biological dangers, let us not forget about megafauna precautions. In, fact, reduced human activity due to Covid-19 allows animals like the Great white shark access to formerly lost territory.

In conclusion, "Yes Virginia, there is such a thing as a Canadian Great white shark".

Sightings may increase over the shorter term with increased observer effort and climate changes, or unfortunately for this iconic species, decrease over the long term. Our planet is facing crisis, and one of the symptoms is declines in top predators like the Great white shark. Climate change may just make such ocean travelers easier to spot. To help track and conserve the sharks, OSEARCH keeps tabs on certain individuals such as Unama'ki, a 15 foot, 5 inch, 2076 pound female Great White that can be tracked online through the OSEARCH website as she makes her way through Canada and the USA on repeat sojourns.

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