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Basking shark washes up on shore of Grand Manan Island

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It was supposed to be a routine visit to the island of Grand Manan, N.B., this past weekend for University of New Brunswick student Catherine D’Aoust.

Along with her team, including freelance photographer Gary Weekes, D’Aoust was heading to the island to work on a documentary film for a school project on Wood Island, which is located just off the main shores of Grand Manan.

Before that work could begin, the team learned of a beached basking shark along the island’s shore.

“It was actually the first stop that we made (when we arrived), where someone told us about the shark,” says D’Aoust. “So we were really lucky that the second we landed on the island we found out about it.”

The shark first washed up onto the island shores in early February. The male shark is nearly 7.6 metres long, and its size caught D’Aoust off guard.

“Walking down the beach you can’t really see it as it was half covered in snow,” she recalls. “We honestly thought it might have just been just a boulder on the beach as it didn’t look like a shark. It wasn’t until we were almost on top of it that we knew we were in the right place.”

“We have never seen a shark on dry land before, so I think it was a bit of a surprise for me especially coming from a large city and never being close to water other than rivers running through London,” says Weekes, with D’Aoust agreeing growing up in rural New Brunswick.

“For us, me especially, I found it incredible,” Weekes continues. “Because, like I say, these are things you don’t see every day and I love sharing that.”

Basking sharks are the second largest known species of shark in the oceans, and the largest to be commonly spotted in the Bay of Fundy.

While seeing them isn’t uncommon in the summer months, spotting one in the winter is according to Aquatics Fisheries Technician Warren Joyce.

“Very surprising to see it this time of year,” Joyce notes. “Normally we do hear of one or two that wash ashore maybe every couple of years around Nova Scotia but that is normally around the summer months when they are common off shore.”

Joyce says it’s the first incident of a basking shark washing up on shore along the Atlantic coast in the winter that he can recall since one was beached in Cape Cod Harbour back in 2017, which also happened around the same time of year.

There is no clear markings on the shark to determine a cause of death. Samples from the shark have been collected by the Marine Animal Response Society and a true cause of death will be known following the results from the necropsy.

For now experts predict the shark either died of starvation or froze in the cold Bay of Fundy waters. Warren says basking sharks are usually found in waters between eight and 16 degrees Celsius, and while they have been found in both colder and warmer waters, they cannot stay there very long.

Reports of beached marine life are much more common in the summer months. Sean Brillant is a senior conservation biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, and he says the reason for more landings in the summer is partially due to more activity in the waters but also that more people are out scouring the beaches.

“Humans don’t tend to go out there very often,” says Brillant of beachgoers in the winter months. “And we only find out about this stuff if someone comes across an animal live or dead on a beach and reports it, and because there is fewer humans out there, there may be fewer reports.”

Anyone who finds any animal washed up on shore should immediately contact marine response teams no matter if they are dead or alive.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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