Many people are surprised to learn that the white shark frequents the east coast of Canada, and even the St. Lawrence Gulf and Estuary. In fact, the white shark is observed more frequently in Atlantic Canada than in British Columbia.
The white shark is undoubtedly the best known and most feared shark in the world. And although its man-eater reputation is exaggerated, due in large part to sensationalistic movies and media reports, it is nonetheless a dangerous species that occasionally attacks people.
In the North Atlantic, the white shark is seasonally present in all of the Maritime provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Québec. Until recently, the majority of sightings and by-catch occurred in the Bay of Fundy. Rare captures and visual encounters were also reported off Nova Scotia and throughout the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence. A white shark was even brought ashore as far inland as Rivière-Portneuf, which is well into the St. Lawrence Estuary and the province of Québec. Over the last decade, documented reports have increased dramatically throughout Atlantic Canada and Québec, where the white shark appears to be gradually re-establishing its former hunting grounds. However, in spite of this apparent increase in population size, the white shark is still considered an endangered species as its numbers remain relatively low, and because its survival is still threatened by human activity.
Surprising as this may be to some, the white shark is not a new visitor to any of these parts, nor is its long-established¹ presence in the St. Lawrence a direct result of 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 its prey—seals—as well as the ubiquity of smartphones and social networks. We expect this trend to continue for as long as the white shark remains a protected species and humans take to sea.
¹ Vladykov, V. D., and R. A. McAlister. 1961. Preliminary list of marine fishes of Quebec. Le naturaliste canadien, 88(3): 17-113.