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OCEARCH finishes strong after expedition hampered by 'brutal' weather (8 photos)

The research team reeled in the largest shark they have sampled in the Northwest Atlantic to date near West Ironbound Island

OCEARCH has wrapped up its third great white shark tagging expedition in Nova Scotia.

The research team started its trip on Sept. 12 up in Cape Breton near Scatarie Island. It only took the crew a few hours to reel in the first big catch; a 13'3" long mature male they named Breton.

However, that early success was soon hampered by big storms and rough seas.

The M/V OCEARCH was forced to frequently move locations and the crew often found themselves sidelined by the "brutal" weather.

The team took refuge in Prince Edward Island while post-tropical storm Teddy blew through the Maritimes.

Several sharks tagged and tracked by group in previous expeditions have pinged in the area this summer, including Vimy, Brunswick and Bluenose.

Expedition leader Chris Fischer said the unexpected detour will likely help them with future trips.

"It forced us to move around and look at different parts of Atlantic Canada we weren't planning on doing until next year and that will help us with our future expedition planning," he said in a video posted to social media. 

"So a lot was learned, even in the midst of just running and hiding from the wind, swell and weather."

After the storm, OCEARCH spent a couple of days in Canso. Fischer said the location looked ideal for tagging, but they didn't spot any great whites.

"We came it right after they had 30-foot-plus waves from Hurricane Teddy," he explained. "We gave it about two-and-a-half-days because we all felt like it looked so good and I think we all want to come back here again."

"There weren't a lot of seals, there was some bait, but I think probably under normal conditions it would look different."

The team's luck returned once they moved to the South Shore where they've had a lot of success in the previous two expeditions.

Their goal was to test whether or not an area off West Ironbound Island -- near Hirtles Beach -- has "predictable access," meaning they can predictably count on being able to find great whites in the area year after year.

That now appears to be the case as OCEARCH tagged seven more sharks in the spot.

Several samples, including tissue, blood and other fluids, were taken from each shark brought on board the group's vessel to support 21 research projects conducted by 35 scientists from 24 organizations.

Those projects will study the biology, physiology, health and behaviour of the white shark population and even examine bacteria in shark's mouths to try and help bite victims.

"Not only is there predictable access here, but there's predictable access to multiple different profiles of the white sharks," Fischer said. "They're different ages, they're different sexes, in different phases of their lives and that allows us to broaden the science here."

One of those sharks stood out among the rest. A 17’2”, 3,541 pound massive female the crew named Nukumi, which is Mi'kmaw for grandmother. She's the largest they have sampled in the Northwest Atlantic to date.

Fischer said getting close to a great white that size is an emotional and humbling experience.

"You feel this aweness and respect for the animal, it's ancientness, it's wisdom, what it's done to provide for us all," he said. "This is what the body and the makeup for a fully mature female white shark looks like."

He figures Nukumi is around 50 years old.

"She's probably had 15 reproductive cycles, which means she's had maybe up to 100 babies, and some of those babies now are old enough to be making babies," he said.

"So she would be a proper and true matriarch of the ocean, a true grandmother of sharks." 

OCEARCH official wrapped up its third Nova Scotian expedition on Oct. 6.

The group worked closely with Canadian customs officials to make sure all COVID-19 rules and regulations were followed.

Here are the sharks tagged in the Maritimes this year:

  • Breton - 1,437 pound, 13 3” mature male
  • Acadia - 1,602 pound, 12' 9" subadult female 
  • Hirtle - 10’9” subadult male 
  • Mahone - 1,701 pound mature male
  • Gladee - 396 pound, 8'8" juvenile female
  • Nukumi - 3,541 pound, 17’2” mature female
  • Rose - 600 pound 10’5” juvenile female
  • Edithe - 1,185 pound, 11'8" subadult female 

Some of them are already able to be tracked on OCEARCH's website.



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Meghan Groff

About the Author: Meghan Groff

Born in Michigan, raised in Ontario, schooled in Indiana and lives in Nova Scotia; Meghan is the editor for CityNews Halifax.
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