“Fear and apathy bite deeper than any shark.”

— Jeffrey Gallant, M.Sc., GEERG

The Greenland Shark & Elasmobranch Education & Research Group was officially founded in 2003 following three years of novel expeditions in the North Atlantic Ocean (Nova Scotia) and Saguenay Fjord (Québec). Today, GEERG research and conservation activities no longer focus exclusively on the Greenland shark, but also on the many shark, skate and ray species that inhabit the St. Lawrence Gulf and Estuary, the Canadian maritime provinces, and the Arctic.

The Greenland shark is the largest member of the Somniosidae family. It is the second largest carnivorous shark after the great white and it is the largest Arctic fish. It is also the longest-living vertebrate animal with a life expectancy of at least 272 years (Nielsen et al., 2016). Its range extends from the Arctic Ocean and Northern Europe to the 32nd parallel north in the Atlantic Ocean. It reaches an enormous size and despite its lethargic appearance, it is a predator capable of short bursts of speed, and under certain conditions may hunt seals and even larger mammals including the beluga whale.

The Greenland shark is rarely observed because of its bathybenthic environment that is inaccessible to divers. The first underwater photos of a live specimen were taken in the Arctic in 1995, and the first video images of a Greenland shark swimming freely under natural conditions were filmed by GEERG in the St. Lawrence in 2003.

The Greenland shark

Our mission to study the world’s oldest vertebrate, the Greenland shark, began in 1999. Help us do more.

The Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group is a not-for-profit registered Canadian charity that requires financial assistance from corporations and private citizens to conduct field operations. All donations are tax deductible in Canada (Canada Revenue Agency Registration Number: 834462913RR0001) and also in the United States. American donations are made through SRI (Shark Research Institute), a non-profit 501(c)(3) scientific research organization.

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Canada Post should be commended for releasing a new stamp issue featuring a limited selection of sharks found in Canadian waters. The traditionally maligned creatures desperately need good press so these new stamps will serve as a reminder that sharks play a key role in Canadian marine ecosystems and that they should be better understood and protected here and beyond. However, it is unfortunate that the image depicting the Greenland shark was modeled on what was likely a photo of a shark caught and lassoed through the ice in the Canadian Arctic. Although lost to the casual observer, this form of mistreatment, which can result in serious injury or death for the shark (Barkley et al., 2016), is the ultimate paradox too often perpetrated by overzealous photographers working under the guise of conservation. The first clue is the ocular parasite that is virtually absent from the Greenland shark at lower latitudes, including at our study site in the St. Lawrence Estuary. The downward-facing, semi-vertical swimming position, which understandably better fits the dimensions of the stamp, is also indicative of a shark being tied to a rope by its caudal fin (tail), or of a distressed and potentially centuries-old shark making a beeline for the bottom after being released, i.e. discarded, having served its momentary purpose. Although the circumstances having led to the creation of the original photo may not have been known to anyone involved in the design of the stamp, the use of such an image to illustrate the Greenland shark as a Canadian icon is nonetheless akin to portraying the other featured species as hanging from a rope at shark derby. I don’t doubt anyone’s good intentions but the experts that “helped advise artwork creation” should have known that unlike the brightly lit conditions depicted on the stamp, the Greenland shark is primarily a deepwater bottom dweller with an aversion for light, hence that normally swims in a horizontal position just slightly off the bottom using its large nares to search for food in total darkness. Some of the associated news stories (bit.ly/2NWQwnj) also claim that three of the five chosen species are native to Canada and that the remaining two are occasional visitors. In fact, only the Greenland shark is a year-round inhabitant of Canada’s inshore waters, while the other four are seasonal migrants whose birthing areas are hypothetical at best. Furthermore, all of the featured species, including the white shark, have a long history of Canadian sightings and accidental captures in the Maritime provinces, and only the mako shark has not been recorded in Quebec’s St. Lawrence Estuary. The Vancouver Aquarium’s claim (bit.ly/2NrprYn) that the Greenland shark is “sometimes caught by fishermen near the mouths of rivers such as the Saguenay River in Quebec” is also only partly true. In fact, the Greenland shark has been documented as a common and plentiful species throughout the St. Lawrence Gulf and Estuary, including the Saguenay Fjord, for nearly 200 years, i.e. they have been caught all over the St. Lawrence for centuries. Aside from these minor technical grievances, here’s to hoping the new stamps by Canada Post will help ensure these amazing sharks remain a permanent fixture of our planet’s natural heritage for many more centuries to come!

— Jeffrey Gallant, M.Sc. | Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group

A Google image search using the words "Greenland shark under ice" mostly results in photos of sharks in the same posture as the shark illustrated on the stamp. As described above, the sharks are either tied to a rope or are headed for the bottom after being released. Don't be fooled by some of the images where the shark is "swimming" horizontally. A quick look at the vertical position of the ice cover, which should be floating horizontally at the surface, shows that the image was rotated, i.e. Photoshopped, to make the distraught shark appear to swim in its normal position. Notice any resemblance? goo.gl/AVl5y

For more on the controversial topic of Greenland shark photography: www.geerg.ca/hooked-on-conservation.html

The following study, which assessed blood lactate and glucose in 46 captured Greenland sharks, found a correlation between depth and increased concentrations of stress metabolites. These capture-related stressors "alter the internal homeostasis of fish and can potentially result in both lethal and sub-lethal physiological and behavioral impairments post-release."

Barkley, A.N., S.J. Cooke, A.T. Fisk, K. Hedges and N.E. Hussey. 2016. Capture-induced stress in deep-water Arctic fish. Polar Biology. DOI: 10.1007/s00300-016-1928-8.
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Canada Post should be commended for releasing a new stamp issue featuring a limited selection of sharks found in Canadian waters. The traditionally maligned creatures desperately need good press so these new stamps will serve as a reminder that sharks play a key role in Canadian marine ecosystems and that they should be better understood and protected here and beyond. However, it is unfortunate that the image depicting the Greenland shark was modeled on what was likely a photo of a shark caught and lassoed through the ice in the Canadian Arctic. Although lost to the casual observer, this form of mistreatment, which can result in serious injury or death for the shark (Barkley et al., 2016), is the ultimate paradox too often perpetrated by overzealous photographers working under the guise of conservation. The first clue is the ocular parasite that is virtually absent from the Greenland shark at lower latitudes, including at our study site in the St. Lawrence Estuary. The downward-facing, semi-vertical swimming position, which understandably better fits the dimensions of the stamp, is also indicative of a shark being tied to a rope by its caudal fin (tail), or of a distressed and potentially centuries-old shark making a beeline for the bottom after being released, i.e. discarded, having served its momentary purpose. Although the circumstances having led to the creation of the original photo may not have been known to anyone involved in the design of the stamp, the use of such an image to illustrate the Greenland shark as a Canadian icon is nonetheless akin to portraying the other featured species as hanging from a rope at shark derby. I don’t doubt anyone’s good intentions but the experts that “helped advise artwork creation” should have known that unlike the brightly lit conditions depicted on the stamp, the Greenland shark is primarily a deepwater bottom dweller with an aversion for light, hence that normally swims in a horizontal position just slightly off the bottom using its large nares to search for food in total darkness. Some of the associated news stories (https://bit.ly/2NWQwnj) also claim that three of the five chosen species are native to Canada and that the remaining two are occasional visitors. In fact, only the Greenland shark is a year-round inhabitant of Canada’s inshore waters, while the other four are seasonal migrants whose birthing areas are hypothetical at best. Furthermore, all of the featured species, including the white shark, have a long history of Canadian sightings and accidental captures in the Maritime provinces, and only the mako shark has not been recorded in Quebec’s St. Lawrence Estuary. The Vancouver Aquarium’s claim (https://bit.ly/2NrprYn) that the Greenland shark is “sometimes caught by fishermen near the mouths of rivers such as the Saguenay River in Quebec” is also only partly true. In fact, the Greenland shark has been documented as a common and plentiful species throughout the St. Lawrence Gulf and Estuary, including the Saguenay Fjord, for nearly 200 years, i.e. they have been caught all over the St. Lawrence for centuries. Aside from these minor technical grievances, here’s to hoping the new stamps by Canada Post will help ensure these amazing sharks remain a permanent fixture of our planet’s natural heritage for many more centuries to come!

— Jeffrey Gallant, M.Sc. | Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group

A Google image search using the words Greenland shark under ice mostly results in photos of sharks in the same posture as the shark illustrated on the stamp. As described above, the sharks are either tied to a rope or are headed for the bottom after being released. Dont be fooled by some of the images where the shark is swimming horizontally. A quick look at the vertical position of the ice cover, which should be floating horizontally at the surface, shows that the image was rotated, i.e. Photoshopped, to make the distraught shark appear to swim in its normal position. Notice any resemblance? http://goo.gl/AVl5y

For more on the controversial topic of Greenland shark photography: http://www.geerg.ca/hooked-on-conservation.html

The following study, which assessed blood lactate and glucose in 46 captured Greenland sharks, found a correlation between depth and increased concentrations of stress metabolites. These capture-related stressors alter the internal homeostasis of fish and can potentially result in both lethal and sub-lethal physiological and behavioral impairments post-release.

Barkley, A.N., S.J. Cooke, A.T. Fisk, K. Hedges and N.E. Hussey. 2016. Capture-induced stress in deep-water Arctic fish. Polar Biology. DOI: 10.1007/s00300-016-1928-8.

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Thank Jeff 💝

Awesome!!

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