September 12-25, 2022
DFO (SARA) Scientific Permit:
QUE-LEP-014-2022

MELCC (LCPN) Research Authorisation:
3850-RE-R; 5141-03-11 [1.2]

⚠️ No sharks are captured or restrained in any way.

Brion22 is the first field expedition of a research program led by the St. Lawrence Shark Observatory (ORS/GEERG), which aims to seek out, tag, and study the white shark at Brion Island, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Atlantic Canada.

Brion22 is the initial step of a longitudinal and multidisciplinary study of the white shark with a focus on scientific discovery, public awareness, and the preservation of biodiversity in the St. Lawrence. This project will expand the overall scope and range of ongoing research campaigns in Atlantic Canada and the U.S. whose shared goal is to develop a new understanding and appreciation of the white shark. On a regional scale, we aim to develop cohabitation strategies adapted to the realities of the Gulf and to dispel the many prejudices that undermine the recovery of the white shark as it re-establishes its historical presence in the St. Lawrence.

⚠️ Notice to recreational divers and boaters: Brion22 is a scientific expedition conducted under licence from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). It is strictly forbidden to conduct cage diving operations or to interact with the white shark without a scientific permit under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). SARA prohibits the killing, harming, harassing, capturing, taking, possessing, collecting, buying, selling or trading of individuals of endangered, threatened or extirpated species, including the white shark (Atlantic population), which is designated as an endangered species. Furthermore, and as stipulated by the Quebec National Heritage Conservation Act (LCPN), access to Île-Brion Ecological Reserve is also strictly forbidden without a permit for scientific research from the ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MELCC).
Opening video © Thomas Leszkiewicz | ORS
White Shark
Brion
Diving
Attacks
EcoMaris
Team

Scientific name: Carcharodon carcharias
French: Requin blanc
Mi’kmaw: Wabinmek ‘wa

COSEWIC assessment (Atlantic population, 2021):

ENDANGERED

The white shark is undoubtedly the best known and most feared shark in the world, and unbeknown to many, it has long been a seasonal resident of the east and west coasts of Canada. Unlike Canadian society today, it was no stranger to the prehistoric peoples of the Maritime Peninsula, as well as the Mi’kmaw First Nation who knew it under several names such as wabinmek ‘wa. The white shark held special significance to the indigenous peoples of the peninsula, which encompassed the Maritime provinces, the St. Lawrence Gulf and Estuary, and parts of New England. This relationship lasting for thousands of years is evidenced by the presence of white shark teeth, which have been found in mortuary and ritual contexts reaching as far inland as the Montreal area, and dating from ca. 5000 B.P. to 950 B.P.

We thus do not believe that the white shark’s presence in the St. Lawrence is significantly related to climate change. Instead, the recent increase in sightings throughout the northwestern Atlantic more likely results from the protected status of both the white shark and one of its primary prey species—seals—as well as the ubiquity of smartphones and social networks, and a large increase in scientific research and tagging studies. This trend should continue for as long as the white shark remains a protected species and humans take to sea.

Jaws reproduction from a 5.93 m (19’6″) female white shark.
The jaws contain 230 teeth (5 rows of 46).
Photo by Bone Clones (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The project aims to establish a research and conservation program on the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) in the Magdalen Islands and Gulf of St. Lawrence. This includes a scientific research component to study the spatio-temporal movements of the white shark in the St. Lawrence, as well as understand its place in the ecosystem and the daily life of the fishing community. A maximum of five acoustic transmitters will be placed on free-swimming* sharks not already tagged with a telemetry device. Acoustic receivers will also be installed at Brion Island and other strategic locations in the Gulf, thus increasing the range of existing acoustic tagging projects in the Gulf and on the east coasts of Canada and the U.S. The program also aims to create a visual database for the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the form of photographs and video allowing the identification of observed individuals, including their location, sex and size. The acoustic and visual data will help to better understand the white shark’s migration and to estimate its population size in the Gulf. Field reports describing activities and research methods will be posted on a daily basis in the Expedition Journal. Brion22 will also be the subject of multimedia productions to raise awareness on the white shark, its historical presence in the Gulf, as well as the need to protect it and preserve its habitat.

* No sharks will be captured or restrained in any way. Tags will be deployed by experienced scientists on sharks swimming freely by the expedition vessel. The description, methodology, equipment, and plan of the research project are available upon request.
¹ Randall, J. E. (1987). Refutation of lengths of 11.3, 9.0, and 6.4 m. attributed to the white shark, Carcharodon carchariasCalifornia Fish and Game, 73 (3): 163–168, figs 1–3.
² Compagno, L., Dando, M., Fowler, S. (2005). Sharks of the World. Collins, 368 p.
³ Hamady LL, Natanson LJ, Skomal GB, Thorrold SR. (2014). Vertebral Bomb Radiocarbon Suggests Extreme Longevity in White Sharks. PLoS ONE 9(1): e84006. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0084006 

For thousands of years, the island of Brion was home to untold numbers of walrus, seals, and seabirds, including the great auk. Such bounty, as well as the abundant presence of bluefin tuna, were a seasonal draw for formidable predators such as orca, the white shark and even the white bear. The Maritime Archaic people and the Miꞌkmaq First Nation were also seasonal travelers to the Magdalen Islands archipelago where they hunted the same quarry as the white shark. When Jacques Cartier first arrived at Brion in 1534, he wrote of walrus and bears, and countless seabirds. He later encountered forty to fifty seagoing canoes carrying over 300 men, women and children fishing and hunting for seals at the mouth of nearby Chaleur Bay. On what is now neighbouring Prince Edward Island circa 1731, a Mi’kmah shaman named Lkimu (a.k.a. Arguimaut) told of bad fish that devoured his people to Father Pierre-Antoine-Simon Maillard (1710-1762). Another story describes the teeth in such detail that it leaves no doubt as to the identity of the perpetrator, the white shark.

We chose Brion Island because of the predictable presence of the white shark, which seasonally congregates there to take advantage of the abundance of seals. The slicks of feces and other bodily secretions emanating from the seal colony extend for kilometres off the island, far exceeding the potency and range of the attractants, a.k.a. chum, used during the Brion22 expedition. Chumming is thus solely required to draw sharks closer to the boat and should have no significant effect on individuals that are not already close by.

Unlike the walrus, white bear and great auk, the white shark may be making a comeback and re-establishing is former hunting grounds in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, including at Brion Island.

Brion Island may thus be the best place to carry out this study in the Gulf. It is a relatively isolated island with no human occupation and it harbours a large seal population of around 10,000 individuals. Such a number of pinnipeds congregating in one place creates a compelling scent trail for the white shark. Moreover, telemetry data from Ocearch¹ reported the almost uninterrupted presence of one to four white sharks equipped with satellite transmitters at Brion Island from mid-August to early November over the last three years (2019-2021). Since only a small proportion of white sharks from the North Atlantic population have been tagged to date², we believe that several other sharks were likely in the vicinity of Brion Island at the same time.

Consulting with local fishers has allowed us to better understand the habits of seals on Brion Island, and to know where they congregate and move. We have also researched prevailing currents, water movements and winds around the island, allowing us to predict the location and trajectory of the scent corridor produced by the seals. The shallowness and clarity of the waters surrounding the island offer perfect conditions for spotting and observing animals, as well as for taking pictures. Sharks and seals are thus located from above and at greater distances using drones, so their behaviour can be remotely observed and analysed by the science team. Finally, Brion Island’s many coves should offer shelter from most wind directions and thus allow us to carry out operations and remain on site without interruption for the duration of the expedition. Since most of island is part of the Brion Island Ecological Reserve, and as such is a restricted area, we have obtained a scientific permit from the ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (Protected Areas Directorate) to be authorised to go ashore and sample seal carcasses resulting from shark attacks.

¹ Ocearch Shark Tracker : https://www.ocearch.org/tracker
² G. Bastien, G. Bastien, A. Barkley, A. Barkley, J. Chappus, J. Chappus, V. Heath, V. Heath, S. Popov, S. Popov, R. Smith, R. Smith, T. Tran, T. Tran, S. Currier, S. Currier, D.C. Fernandez, D. Fernandez, P. Okpara, P. Okpara, V. Owen, V. Owen, B. Franks, B. Franks, R. Hueter, R. Hueter, D.J. Madigan, D. Madigan, C. Fischer, C. Fischer, B. McBride, B. McBride, & N.E. Hussey, N. Hussey. (2020). Inconspicuous, recovering, or northward shift: status and management of the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) in Atlantic Canada. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 77, 1666-1677. doi: 10.1139/cjfas-2020-0055
DONATE TO BRION22
TAX DEDUCTIBLE IN CANADA
CRA #834462913RR0001

Scientific diving operations during Brion22 are conducted under the auspices of the Canadian Association for Underwater Science (CAUS) Standard of Practice for Scientific Diving. All dives are restricted to the shark observation cage due to the constant presence of natural attractants emanating from nearby seal colonies and the use of bait during daylight hours. Divers in the cage use a surface-supplied hookah system custom-designed for Brion22 by Sherwood Scuba. The expedition uses the ORS aluminum shark observation cage built by Centre de formation professionnelle Paul-Rousseau in 2000, and modernised by the Centre national intégré du manufacturier intelligent (CNIMI) in 2022.

Cage design and procedures are in strict compliance with the ORS cage-diving protocol, which is closely based on proven government regulations from New Zealand and South Africa, as well as experience gained from our previous expeditions in Canada and overseas. All of our diving, photography and scientific equipments were selected based on their reliability and proven track record under the most intense conditions.

⚠️

Notice to recreational divers and boaters:

Brion22 is a scientific expedition conducted under licence from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). It is strictly forbidden to conduct cage diving operations or to interact with the white shark without a permit under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). SARA prohibits the killing, harming, harassing, capturing, taking, possessing, collecting, buying, selling or trading of individuals of endangered, threatened or extirpated species, including the white shark (Atlantic population), which is designated as an endangered species. Furthermore, and as stipulated by the Quebec National Heritage Conservation Act (LCPN), access to the Île-Brion Ecological Reserve is also strictly forbidden without a permit for scientific research from the ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MELCC).

DFO (SARA) Scientific Permit:
QUE-LEP-014-2022
MELCC (LCPN) Research Authorisation:
3850-RE-R; 5141-03-11 [1.2]

The white shark could be making a comeback in the St. Lawrence. Is there cause for concern?

Canada is not known for its many shark species nor for encounters with sharks resulting in injury or death. And yet, its first written account (1672) of abundant sharks and skates in the St. Lawrence, as well as the 1691 tale of a fatal shark attack, predates Confederation and climate change by centuries.

There is also convincing evidence that prehistoric encounters between Indigenous peoples and sharks, including fatal attacks, took place for millennia in the Maritime provinces, which lends further credence to our belief that the so-called return of the white shark in Atlantic Canada and the St. Lawrence is more akin to a semblance of normalcy than a significant effect of climate change. Nevertheless, the risk of being bitten, let alone killed by a shark in Canada or anywhere else remains extremely low.

The St. Lawrence Shark Observatory (ORS) publishes and maintains the Canadian Shark Attack Registry, the first and only database of all documented shark encounters that have resulted in injury or death in Canada, including white shark incidents in the Gulf. The registry also provides behavioural insight as well as preventive safety recommendations for anyone venturing where sharks may be present in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, British Columbia, Hudson Bay, or the Canadian Arctic.

CANADIAN SHARK ATTACK REGISTRY

EcoMaris offers programs and services to discover the St. Lawrence aboard the tall ship training vessel, EcoMaris, which will serve as the expedition vessel for Brion22. Departing from the Magdalen Islands, EcoMaris will anchor off Brion Island for nearly two weeks.

The vessel is able to transport and deploy the shark observation cage quickly and with minimal effort. By remaining on station—weather permitting—for the duration of the expedition, the science team will be able to monitor the site uninterrupted and thus increase the odds of sighting and tagging sharks.

Overall length: 26.30m (85’)
Draught: 1.2 m
Air draught: 21 m
Displacement: 56 tons
Hull: Steel
Bunks: 20
Construction: 1999
ECOMARIS

Paul Boissinot (ORS)
Diving Safety Officer

Jeffrey Gallant, M.Sc. (ORS, CEGEP de Drummondville)
Expedition Leader | Scientific Director

Luka Gallant (Distillerie du 29 octobre)
Expedition Videographer

Marc-André Gaudreau, Ph.D. (UQTR)
Engineering | Cage Logistics

Davy Hay Gallant (Distillerie du 29 octobre)
Expedition Photographer

Thomas Leszkiewicz, B.Sc. (ORS)
Science | Acoustic Telemetry

Lyne Morissette, Ph.D. (M – Expertise Marine | Balad’eau)
Science | Ecology | Journalist

Simon Paquin (EcoMaris)
Ship Operations

Noé Sardet (Parafilms)
Film Director/Producer

Bait Masters (PEI) | Chum production
Marc-André Baril (UQTR) | Shark cage engineering
Dany Bradette (Réseau Logique) | Satellite phone + minutes
Cap Dauphin Fishermen’s Cooperative | Freezer facilities for chum
Rosemarie Duchesne (Parafilms) | Documentary researcher

Dr. Chris Harvey-Clark (Dalhousie University) | Scientific consulting
Patricia Hay Gallant (ORS) | Accounting
Dr. Mauricio Hoyos (Pelagios Kakunja) | Scientific consulting
Paul Lemay (ORS) | Expedition Logistics
Plongée Capitale | Oxygen for DAN O2 Kit

William Messier (UQTR) | Shark cage engineering
Martin Pinard (FBL) | Accounting
La Scubathèque | Air fills and testing

Marco Turbide | Shuttle boat and chum deliveries

DONATE TO BRION22
TAX DEDUCTIBLE IN CANADA
CRA #834462913RR0001