Great white sharks live off the east coast of Canada and we’re on a mission to find them

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Did you know that there are great white sharks in Canadian waters?

If you said no, you’re not alone.

These formidable predators with a bad reputation are often associated with more tropical waters. However, in recent years, shark sightings in the Maritimes have increased, fueling news stories and social media posts, stoking fear in some and excitement in others.

In Jawsome: the great white sharks of Canadaa documentary of The nature of thingsA team of East Coast shark enthusiasts set out on a quest to find them, film them and learn as much as possible about these elusive and often misunderstood predators.

The entire body of a great white shark fills the image as it swims past the camera.
In the waters off Nova Scotia, great white sharks are seen more often, but that doesn’t mean they are new to the Maritimes. (Nick Hawkins)

Great white sharks are considered a vulnerable species around the worldbut in Canada, they are actually in danger. As a population, they are extremely difficult to study and monitor because they are mostly solitary and can migrate thousands of miles.

The white sharks that visit our East Coast are part of a population that lives in waters stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Newfoundland. They visit Canadian waters during the summer and early fall.

The sun spots a great white shark as it swims near the ocean surface.
Great white sharks are feared by many, but they are misunderstood predators that help maintain a balanced ecosystem. (Nick Hawkins)

And there’s a good reason they make the seasonal journey north: food, and lots of it. Atlantic Canada has a thriving gray seal population and is home to the largest colonies in the world.

When young, white sharks start out eating fish and other small sharks, but once they reach adulthood, they seek out larger meals. Sea turtles, sea lions and even dolphins are all on the menu, but in the Maritimes they hunt seals. As apex predators, white sharks help maintain the balance of the ecosystem.

They can be up to six meters long and weigh up to 1,800 kilograms.

With the large seal population, white sharks have realized there is plentiful food here, and more are making the journey to the Atlantic buffet.

A woman wearing scuba gear floats to the surface with a big smile on her face.
Alanna Canaran educates divers in Nova Scotia and advocates to learn as much as possible about the sharks she shares the water with. (Nick Hawkins)

Passionate ocean educator and scuba diving instructor Alanna Canaran is on a mission to find out everything she can about white sharks in Nova Scotia, helping to combat the misconception that sharks are scary and dangerous. She wants to make sure her student divers are knowledgeable and want to continue going into the ocean.

A fisherman dressed in a checked shirt stands on his fishing boat, one foot on the gunwale, facing the sea.
Art Gaetan is a fisherman and citizen scientist who keeps a catalog of all the white sharks he has found in Nova Scotia waters. (Élaine Gaétan)

Canaran often goes out on the water with Art Gaetan, a citizen scientist who has worked with sharks for more than 25 years. Together, they film white sharks using underwater cameras and bait lines to better understand how many sharks are swimming and identify individuals. By recording unique markings on their dorsal fins and bodies, Gaétan created the first-ever catalog of white sharks found on the southern coast of Nova Scotia.

Four people are sitting on a boat looking at a computer screen with shocked looks.
Canaran, biologist Heather Jackson, Gaetan and biologist Maggie McKenna are surprised and excited by what they see on their cameras after a day of waiting for white sharks to surface. (Matthew Hood)

Thanks to Gaétan’s library of amazing footage, he learned that sharks are very cautious and quite sneaky. They are certainly not the mindless eating machines they are often made out to be.

A bearded man in a hat holds binoculars in his hand and looks past the camera.
Nick Hawkins is a wildlife filmmaker looking to film sharks in the waters off Nova Scotia. (Kyle Sandiland)

For Jealousthe documentary team wanted to get an even more intimate glimpse into the lives of sharks and hopefully better footage for Gaetan’s catalog. So they teamed up with wildlife filmmaker Nick Hawkins.

But it turns out that finding sharks and filming them underwater is no easy task. easy. It takes a plot of effort and a plot to wait.

Two men wearing full diving gear and holding cameras sit patiently on the deck of a fishing boat.
Filming sharks requires a lot of patience and waiting, as the film crew discovered during their time on the water. (Matthew Hood)

For more than 30 days, Hawkins and Gaétan went with the film crew in search of sharks. But in all that time, they only managed to film the sharks for one day!

Aerial shot of three archaeologists digging square plots of earth.
Archaeologists discover evidence of a long-standing relationship between the Mi’kmaq and great white sharks in a shell midden. (Nick Hawkins)

While many people think white sharks are a recent visitor to the Maritimes due to warming waters caused by climate change, Canaran delved into the past with archaeologist Matthew Betts of the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, ON. Quebec. He showed her white shark teeth discovered in middens – ancient trash piles and mounds of shells and artifacts – dating back at least 4,000 years.

This is proof that there was a relationship between humans and white sharks on the East Coast long before the arrival of colonizers, and today’s Mi’kmaq still retain traditional knowledge of how they coexisted with sharks.

Melissa and Todd Labrador, Mi’kmaq canoe builders from Kespukwitk (southwest Nova Scotia), show Canaran how spruce roots and eel grass were attached to birch bark canoes to deter sharks during deep sea fishing and harvesting trips.

An Aboriginal woman paddles a birch bark canoe.
Melissa Labrador paddles a traditional Mi’kmaw canoe made of birch bark with spruce roots attached to the bottom – a traditional method of warding off sharks. (Nick Hawkins)

After weeks of effort and bad weather conditions (including a hurricane!), Gaetan and Hawkins finally managed to get the images of white sharks they were hoping for.

A diver in full scuba gear floats in a shark cage and holds a camera while a great white shark bares its teeth outside the cage.
A diver films a great white shark as it approaches a specially designed shark cage. (Nick Hawkins)

Hawkins filmed a large female underwater, which is a good sign for Nova Scotia. Females are larger than males and can live up to 70 years. This means the Maritimes ecosystem is healthy and diverse enough to adequately support large predators like this incredible female white shark.

A profile image of a great white shark swimming in Nova Scotia waters.
These incredible predators are the sign of a healthy ocean ecosystem and, hopefully, are here to stay. (Nick Hawkins)

There aren’t many places left in the world where you can see great white sharks, but in Eastern Canada we hope they are here to stay. Their presence provides an incredible opportunity to learn more about these epic but enigmatic animals and learn how to live with them in our waters to ensure they thrive in their Canadian home.

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