Saturday, March 29, 2008

New Brunswick is also home to Great White sharks

One of the very interesting under-water communities under Mother Nature's watch "in New Brunswick" is the shark community. We in New Brunswick often tend to think sharks are fish that are found "down south" or "somewhere else". However, that's not the case. We have sharks off our New Brunswick coastline and they play a very significant role as a member of the underwater community. Let's pay a call on the shark community off New Brunswick today to see who's here and how they're doing.

The shark community took a major PR hit 32 years ago with the release of the movie Jaws. That label that sharks are human-munching machines is extremely unfortunate. There are approximately 400 shark species worldwide. Of those, there are very few species that would ever consider attacking a human. In fact, the vast majority of them feed on fish and marine mammals and the huge second-largest shark in the world, the Basking Shark, comes to our Bay of Fundy water each summer to feed on the huge quantities of the tiny sea creatures copepods and krill. The world's largest shark, the Whale Shark, has been confirmed in one sighting and suspected in another in the Bay of Fundy.

Unfortunately, knowledge of the life and times of the shark community off our coastline is very much in its infancy. Dr. Stephen Turnbull and his small team at UNBSJ in Saint John have devoted considerable time and research effort to get a handle on the status of sharks in our waters and much of the present knowledge we have is a result of his efforts. The freshly minted Canadian Shark Conservation Society and its associated website is a product of his efforts to alert the public to the pressing need to conserve and protect the shark community. It is now known that 98 per cent of the world's shark species are in population decline as a direct result of human over fishing.

So just what shark species do we have as more common natives of the area? Many felt in the past that our cool waters were not suitable for the shark community however, for some species, that may be exactly what they choose. The Porbeagle Shark is thought to be the most common shark in the North Atlantic Ocean. The Blue Shark is considered the most common pelagic (deeper sea) shark and the most common shark anywhere is likely the smaller Spiny Dogfish Shark. The average Porbeagle Shark caught in the Bay of Fundy would be 2.3 m in length and weigh in at 165 lbs, however they have been recorded elsewhere at lengths of all most 4 m and in excess of 500 lbs. We may not be seeing the larger adult ones as many are being decimated by over fishing before they reach adult size.

If too many sharks are removed from the population, recovery rate is very slow as it may take up to eight to 13 years for male and female respectively for sharks to reach sexual maturity and they may be only capable of producing at best a few young "pups" per year. This makes recovery painfully slow.

The Porbeagle Shark, Mako Shark, Thresher Shark, Basking Shark, and Spiny Dogfish Shark may be the more common sharks off New Brunswick, however 15 different species have been recorded as being in the area, some only a few instances like the Great White Shark and the Whale Shark (largest known shark of the world). It can be very difficult to assess the numbers present as most species, with the exception of the huge Basking Shark, don't come to the surface to feed so go undetected as we simply don't see them. It's just not like whales that are mammals and have to come to the surface to breathe where we can readily spot them.

The Thresher Shark (very long whip-like tailfin) is definitely present on occasion as well and this species sometimes happens to be spotted leaping out of the water for onlookers that are "in the right place at the right time." The Porbeagle Shark will occasionally leap too, but not as readily as the Thresher Shark. The huge Basking Shark will sometimes leap (breach) just as a whale, which is a value-added bonus to whale watching expeditions.

There seem to be some misconceptions about shark meat as an edible product. Shark fin soup is a very sought-after delicacy among certain cultures in parts of Asia. The flesh is removed from the fin to get the noodle like cartilage strands. The shark fin can sell for $1400/lb and a bowl of shark fin soup would sell at $70-$200 a bowl, depending on where you are.

In Canada, it is illegal to have shark fins on board a vessel without the corresponding shark. This has stopped the very unethical practice of catching the shark, cutting off the fins, and discarding the remainder of the shark. Shark meat does not command a worthwhile price. There is no legal shark fishery off the New Brunswick Coast, however there is an active fishery off Nova Scotia. The shark is an animal that retains high urea levels in its flesh as a way to live in seawater.

This creates an offensive odour in the flesh that has to be removed by leeching it out before going to market.

The Porbeagle Shark has some of the most desirable qualities as an edible fish meat; however similar Mako Shark is often mistakenly marketed as Porbeagle Shark. The common Spiny Dogfish Shark finds a market in Europe and in some places in North America where it gets marketed as Grey Fish or Rock Salmon to be used in preparing fish and chips.

The swordfish fishery more than occasionally catches sharks and unfortunately that may end up being marketed as swordfish meat.

However, there is yet another consideration to be aware of in the consumption of shark meat. Sharks, being among the top of the food chain, may have bioaccumulate toxic mercury (Hg) in their flesh. The potential toxic levels of mercury in shark meat for human consumption is a public health concern. Ironically, shark fin soup is considered an aphrodisiac in the Orient. (Elevated levels of mercury can actually cause impotence!)

Catch and release shark fishing is legal in New Brunswick. If done properly, this allows for more information to be gathered for research purposes, and encourages a sustainable tourist industry. A group called Sharks Unlimited has set up, operating out of Alma, New Brunswick, to make catch and release shark fishing trips.

This group has received high praise from Stephen Turnbull and other shark conservation groups for their conservation methods to provide more shark data off our coast, create a tourist industry, and increase the awareness of the plight of the sharks.

Naturescope plans to pay an on-the-spot visit to Sharks Unlimited late this summer for an up-to-the-moment account of the action.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Monterey Bay released thirde Great White shark into the wilderness

The white shark released back into the wild in early February by the Monterey Bay Aquarium has already traveled past the southern tip of Baja California, aquarium officials announced Thursday. The male shark was released Feb. 5 after spending more than five months on display in the aquarium's Outer Bay exhibit. Before its release, the shark was fitted with a pair of electronic tags.

One of the tags sends a satellite signal with the shark's location every time its dorsal fin breaks the surface of the water. Of the three sharks the aquarium has displayed and released back into the wild since 2005, this one made it to Mexico the fastest by far. "It's remarkable. The shark made it to Cabo in one-third the time it took the second animal to get there.

To travel that far, that fast was totally unexpected. It's another reminder of just how little we know about what these animals do in the wild,'' aquarium Vice President Randy Hamilton said. The shark's movements can be followed on the Internet at by following the "Juvenile White Shark'' link on the Live Data page. "Where will this shark end up? Will it turn north into the Gulf of California? It's anybody's guess. What we're learning adds tremendously to what little is known about the lives of young white sharks,'' Hamilton said.

The shark was seen by more than 650,000 aquarium visitors during its 162 days on exhibit. Aquarium officials are hoping to bring another shark to the aquarium for display later this year. All three of the sharks captured and displayed by the aquarium have survived and thrived after being returned to the wild, according to aquarium officials.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Getting affectionate with a Great White shark!

It is the moment a scientist patted a ferocious Great White Shark that burst out of the water alongside his boat off the coast of Australia.

The shark had been lured to the boat with chunks of bait as part of tests on a "Shark Shield'" - an electronic device designed to ward sharks away from surfers.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fossil of relative to the Great White shark was discovered on a beach

Grant Johnson went to Egmont Key on Sunday with his mother, his aunt and two grandparents, hoping to pick up a few shells and fly his kite.

Instead, the 9-year-old happened on a remarkable find: a 5-inch-long, 4 1/2-inch-wide shark tooth.
Walking down the windy beach, he first thought it was a piece of driftwood poking out of the sand, but when he picked it up, it was much too heavy. A ranger on the island told him it belonged to a megalodon, a huge, extinct relative of the great white shark.

"It's probably been on the beach for a few million years," Grant said.

The tooth's white enamel had turned gray. There were a few chips from ages spent in the sea. But there was no denying it was a shark tooth.

Megalodons could grow as long as 60 feet and heavy as 77 tons by some accounts - more than twice as long as a great white shark. They became extinct about 2-million years ago.

Bob Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory, said these teeth turn up in "reasonably good numbers" on the southwest coast of Florida. What makes one tooth more valuable than another is the extent to which they remain intact.

"This isn't like the Hope Diamond of shark teeth," said Hueter, who had not seen the tooth itself. "They're probably worth more as a family curio and heirloom than if they sold it."

The biggest ever

The largest megalodon tooth ever found was 6.75 inches long, according to the Web site of the Florida Museum of Natural History, which has assembled a popular megalodon exhibit. The megalodon had 46 front row teeth, 24 in the upper jaw and 22 in the lower and a typical shark has 6 rows of teeth, the Web site says.

Maybe it would inspire Grant to grow up and study sharks, Hueter suggested.

Sunday's find made Grant an instant celebrity among the handful of visitors to Egmont Key.
"He's the talk of the island here right now," said his mother, Susan Johnson.

"It's the coolest thing I've ever seen," said Susie Tranchilla, who took the same ferry as Grant and his family.

Dressed in a blue fleece, long pants and hiking boots, Grant showed the giant tooth to dozens of curious people. The fourth-grader at Palm Harbor Montessori Academy said he is learning about shells in school. His father keeps a large salt-water aquarium at home so he is already inclined toward this type of thing.

Just the day before he saw some megalodon teeth for sale at John's Pass, but they were not as large as this one.

The discovery will go in a display case at home, Grant said. It will be a fun memory of a day at the beach, but it's also a little bit scary.

"If these still existed," Grant said, looking at the water. "I wouldn't swim."

Jonathan Abel can be reached at or 727 445-4157.

By the numbers

6.75 The length in inches of the longest known megalodontooth.

46 The number of front row teeth, 24 in the upper jaw and 22 in the lower. Most sharks have at least six rows of teeth.

276 The number of teeth megalodonhad at any given time.

60 The length in feet a megalodon could reach. It could weigh 77 tons.

2 million years. How long ago megalodon is thought to have vanished from oceans.

Source: Florida Museum of Natural History

Link to a Megalodon exhibit created by the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Tourist that caught Great White shark landed company in hot water!

Almost all anglers like to hear stories about big fish. Wildlife officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation have tales about some big fisheries cases that they've made.One of those cases involved a small swordfish. Swordfish must measure 47 inches from the lower jaw to the fork of the tail to be legal to keep.

Last June, officer Scott Engstler caught Robert F. Gomez with a 43-inch swordfish.Instead of filing state charges, Engstler turned over the case to federal agents with the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement. The feds ended up settling the case with Gomez for $2,790 for a violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The feds get a lot more money for fishery violations than Florida does. Witness the case against a Fort Lauderdale charter captain and his mate, who were cited for killing a great white shark caught by one of their customers.Capt. Brent Rowland and his mate Joseph Gins pled no contest to the charges. Adjudication was withheld and each man paid a $213 fine and court costs plus $450 reimbursement of the FWC's investigative costs.When the shark was caught, Rowland called me about it and e-mailed me photos of the great white, which he said was released.

When I asked him for the phone number of the angler, who was from out of state, he said the fellow was not headed home from Fort Lauderdale and I wouldn't be able to call him.I ended up not writing a story because it sounded fishy. Wildlife officers heard rumors about the catch, but they didn't have any evidence.

The key to making the case turned out to be a video shot by one of the anglers on the trip that eventually showed up on YouTube.I was alerted to the video by a member of the Florida Sportsman online forum and watched as the shark was brought alongside the boat, which Rowland and Gins are no longer affiliated with, and killed with a bangstick. I think someone off camera in the video said that it was illegal to kill a great white and the dead shark was allowed to float away.

The video was taken down from YouTube, but FWC investigator Andy Carcasses was able to get a copy of it, which led to the charges being brought against Rowland and Gins and their no contest plea.

Huge hammerheadCapt. Greg Bogdan had a bittersweet catch this past week. Bogdan, who fishes out of Lake Worth Inlet, had been seeing some big hammerhead sharks while fishing just off the beaches for spinner sharks.His angler foul-hooked a hammerhead the other day and when the shark finally came alongside the boat, it was spent. Bogdan tried to revive the 11-foot shark for two hours, but it died. Bogdan, who has a degree in marine biology, brought in the shark. It weighed over 1,000 pounds with its tail still on the ground and area fishery scientists took numerous tissue and organ samples to study.

Bacardi resultsAfonso Domingos and his crew Bernardo Santos won the Bacardi Cup Star Class Regatta on Friday on Biscayne Bay, beating out 2002 Star world champion Iain Percy and crew Andrew Simpson in a tiebreaker.Percy and Simpson had led going into the final day of the 81st regatta. Domingos and Santos, who won the Bacardi Cup in 2004, posted a pair of second-place finishes Friday — Percy and Simpson finished fifth and ninth in the 118-boat fleet — to pull into a tie with 20 points for their four best races.

The finishes in the final race broke the tie.John Dane and Austin Sperry of Mississippi, who won the 2006 Bacardi Cup and will represent the United States in the Star class at the Summer Olympics in China, overcame finishes of 20th and 39th in their first two races and rallied with finishes of second, third and fifth to place third.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Great White shark tests anti-shark device

AN electronic device designed to ward sharks away from surfers failed so spectacularly during a trial off South Africa that it was eaten by a great white.

An inquest heard yesterday the Shark Shield surf model was activated on a float carrying bait when the 3.6m female shark approached. Rather than being deterred by the device, the shark, under the gaze of the Natal Sharks Board, bit into it.

South Australian Deputy State Coroner Tony Schapel yesterday heard of the test failure during the inquest into the death of Jarrod Stehbens, who was taken by a great white shark while diving off Glenelg in South Australia in 2005.

The inquest has turned into a trial of Shark Shield devices, hearing concerns that the electronic fields generated to repel sharks may attract them.

Studying cuttlefish for the University of Adelaide at the time of his death, Stehbens had been provided with two Shark Shields on his dive boat by university staff - but he either didn't know they were there or chose not to use them.

University staff have told Mr Schapel they questioned the Shark Shields' efficacy and believed there might be long-term health risks from using them. As a result, the devices were not compulsory.

Rod Hartley, director of Sea Change Technology, which manufactures the Shark Shields, yesterday took the stand to defend his product.

"There is no doubt whatsoever that it does not attract sharks," he said.

He told Mr Schapel he believed a disgruntled surfer had started the rumour.

"Nobody wearing a Shark Shield has ever been attacked by a shark," he added.

Mr Hartley said the failed South African test on the surf unit - which has been held back from release into the marketplace - was due to a problem with the electrode's configuration. The device was now packaged with a large disclaimer warning it would only repel sharks when the surfer was still in the water waiting for a wave.

"The surf product only can be guaranteed to work when it's stationary, not when it's surfing in the wave or paddling," Mr Hartley said.

CSIRO shark expert Barry Bruce has told the inquest the shark that killed Stehbens was in "full predatory strike" mode and would have been nearly impossible to deter. His body was never recovered.

Mr Schapel will publish his findings at a later date.

Inquest of Great White shark fatal attack on diver continues...

A MAN fought for his life against a great white shark before it dragged him off and killed him during a diving trip, an inquest has been told.

Justin Rowntree told the Coroner's Court in Adelaide today about the attack on 23-year old Jarrod Stehbens at Glenelg in August 2005.

The pair was carrying out research for the University of Adelaide at the time.

"I was looking at Jarrod when I felt a whack on the back which rotated me around," Mr Rowntree said. "Initially I thought it was a dolphin but pretty quickly I realised it was not."

Mr Stehbens, a "highly experienced diver" then fought for his life against the 5m shark. "It went straight towards Jarrod, initially he whacked it directly on the snout and it seemed to go away momentarily," Mr Rowntree said.

"Then it came back and took his leg and dragged him under ... it happened like a flash."

The students had almost finished their dive for cuttlefish eggs at the popular Glenelg Tyre Reef.
Mr Rowntree said the dive would have been Mr Stehbens' last in South Australia before he went to live in Germany. Mr Rowntree told the court he believed there was a low risk of encountering a great white shark off Adelaide's suburban beaches.

"Sometimes we would have a bit of a joke about it, just knowing that they are out there," he said. Neither diver was wearing an electrical device known as a shark shield at the time.

Mr Rowntree said that while he was unaware there were shark shields on the dive boat, he probably would not have worn one anyway.

"The ones that existed, that apparently were on the boat at the time, were big cumbersome things," he said.
The court was told that the wearing of shark shields was made compulsory by the university after the tragic attack.

The inquest continues.