Let me guess… as you looked at this photo of a crocheted great white shark, you began to hum the theme from JAWS? That’s probably because this incredible animal, the largest of predatory fish, is also one of the most maligned by Hollywood.
Despite their notoriety, very little is known about the biology and habits of the great white shark, or Carcharodon carcharias. For example, where they mate and birth their young remains unknown. These torpedo-shaped predators are seen only rarely in Atlantic Canadian waters, with sightings and captures reported every couple years in the Bay of Fundy and off southwest and eastern Nova Scotia.
We do know that the great white is solitary hunter that can reach over six meters in length. They have one of the widest habitat ranges of any fish, and can tolerate temperature differences from sub-arctic to inshore tropical conditions. Their sleek evolutionary design has helped them rule the seas for over 400 million years, until humans usurped their role as apex predator, very recently. Many are caught as trophies for sports fishermen every year and even more end up caught as bycatch on pelagic long lines, trawls and gillnets.
A recent study out of Dalhousie University has revealed that North Atlantic great white shark populations fell by 79 percent from 1986 to 2000. They are now classified as a vulnerable or endangered species by many governments, including Canada, but much more needs to change on the water to ensure their survival. Depleted populations may take a long time to recover. Great whites grow slowly, and don’t reach sexual maturity until around 12 years of age.
If you are lucky enough to be in Halifax this Saturday, I’d like to invite you to come down to the Oxford Theatre for a 1 pm matinee showing of Sharkwater. It is a film by Canadian director Rob Stewart that features amazing shark footage and is helping to change our collective societal tune about sharks and ocean conservation issues. This film presentation is part of a weeks-worth of activities to celebrate the Ecology Action Centre’s Ocean Week.