A 300-kilogram great white shark affectionately known as Pumpkin has been cruising Nova Scotia’s Minas Basin to feast on an abundance of seals, captivating locals and possibly shedding light on the species’ little-known migratory patterns.
Scientists say the 2.7-metre female shark was detected off Cheverie by an acoustic monitoring system that picked up a transmitter placed on it last year by researchers with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.
Fred Whoriskey, executive director of the Ocean Tracking Network at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said it’s not surprising that Pumpkin ended up in the area, which is part of the species’ natural range. He said the hungry shark is likely chasing seals, but has shown up earlier than normal.
“I’m a little surprised at how early it has appeared in the Minas Basin,” he said Wednesday. “I’m kind of encouraged to know that our ecosystems are bouncing back and these critical components are back in place.”
He said they’ve had about six tagged great whites in the Bay of Fundy over the last few years.
Whoriskey said there was an explosion in the seal population off Cape Cod, Mass., last year, leading to a commensurate boost in the number of sharks in the area. He says researchers identified about 100 new young great white sharks last year in that area.
Darren Porter, a fisherman involved in collecting data on the tracking of sharks and other marine life, said he had the first detection of Pumpkin about a month ago and then again last weekend.
He said it has been making the rounds in the basin, going from Bramber to Kempt Shore and up the Avon River according to the nine receivers he has in the basin that can pick up on tagged sharks’ presence.
He said he’s convinced the animal is in the area to feed on seals or as he calls them, “Pumpkin snacks.”
“I’m pretty excited about it,” he said, adding that he has enough respect for the warm-blooded animals to remain out of the water. “I stay in my boat for that. I know what’s under the water and it’s not my thing to swim with sharks! I do love them though.”
The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy says the animal is the largest predatory fish in the world, with a powerful jaw full of serrated teeth and a body that can weigh up to 4,000 pounds. But, it says the population in the North Atlantic has dropped by 75 per cent in the past 15 years and is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as vulnerable.
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They have been protected from harvesting in U.S. waters since 1991, but the conservancy says still so little is known about where the sharks travel, pup and feed.
Porter said there was a charming irony to the fact that Pumpkin decided to venture up the Avon River and near an area known for its prolific pumpkin crop. Nearby Windsor, N.S., hosts an annual pumpkin regatta and weigh-off in the fall as part of a pumpkin festival.
“What’s cool about it is she’s in the pumpkin capital of the world probably,” he said with a laugh from his boat. “So you got Pumpkin up here challenging the notion of the pumpkin king. What’s the chance of me getting the first white shark ever detected in the Avon River being called Pumpkin?”
Whoriskey said people shouldn’t panic about being in the water with Pumpkin, since he’s not aware of a single shark attack in Canada.
He said it’s hoped the work being done by a collection of tracking groups around the world will help fill the information gap about great whites, including how many are left globally.