West Point lighthouse in Prince County, P.E.I. Guardian P.E.I. file photoRafe Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 11, 2022 at 07:47

By Rafe Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WEST POINT, P.E.I. — A shark sighting near West Point, P.E.I., prompted a beach closure early this week.

On Aug. 8 at approximately 10:45 a.m., a fin was spotted by lifeguards just outside of the supervised swimming area at Cedar Dunes Provincial Park in Prince County.

The beach was immediately closed by the lifeguards on duty, who spotted two other fins close by.

There were about five people in the swimming area when the beach was closed. No one was harmed.

Matthew Smith, provincial lifeguard co-ordinator for P.E.I., said the team took the proper precautions when a dorsal fin is spotted.

Because the sharks were far enough from shore, the lifeguards on duty were unable to determine if the sharks were a direct threat.

Matthew Smith, provincial lifeguard co-ordinator for P.E.I., said the proper safety precautions were taken to ensure the safety of the public. – Contributed

“The fins did not come close enough to shore to determine what breed of shark it was,” he said.

Shark sightings have been increasing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in recent years.

The most common sharks seen near P.E.I. coastlines are basking sharks and white sharks, said Heather Bowlby, research lead at the Canadian Atlantic Shark Research Laboratory at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.

The sharks sighted were likely not tagged, prompting the lack of awareness they were in the area, she said in a phone interview with SaltWire Network on Aug. 10.

“Tags are generally mounted on the dorsal fin, so it’s more obvious when they are seen,” said Bowlby.

Because three separate fins were spotted in a small area, it’s likely the sharks were basking sharks – who tend to travel more in packs, as opposed to white sharks, who usually hunt alone.

People are seeing more sharks because equipment to detect them is becoming more advanced, said Heather Bowlby, research lead at the Canadian Atlantic Shark Research Lab in Bedford, N.S. – Contributed

Basking sharks are filter feeders, meaning they only eat shrimp, plankton and other crustaceans and are no danger to humans.

However, the dorsal fins on basking sharks look quite similar to those on white sharks, which often prompts people to needlessly panic.

They are also more likely to move slowly – another indicator the sightings were basking sharks, as they didn’t appear to be moving quickly.

“Basking sharks often do come fairly close to shore. It sounds to me like they were just transitting the area,” said Bowlby.

Did you know?

• The basking shark is the second-largest living shark and fish, after the whale shark, and one of three plankton-eating shark species.

• Similar to whale sharks, basking sharks feed with their mouths wide open and have no sharp teeth for biting.

• Basking shark population estimates in Canadian waters may number between 4,918 and 10,125 according to a survey by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Staying calm during a shark sighting is very important, said Smith.

“Calmly get out the water, and there should be no issues,” he said, adding that it’s also important to always check online beach reports to see what the surf conditions are like and if the beach is being supervised.

The beach was deemed safe for swimmers on Aug. 9.

Shark sightings should be reported to Canadian Atlantic Shark Research Laboratory at shark.mar@dfo-mpo.gc.ca or by phone at 1-844-400-7870.

This item reprinted with permission from The Guardian, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island