Shark Week, Discovery Channel’s seven-day extravaganza dedicated to all things shark, just kicked off its 27th year, garnering record high ratings for the network.
Here in Parksville Qualicum Beach, Shark Week begs the question: what kind of sharks are in our waters?
The good news is according to Dr. Dennis Thoney, Vancouver Aquarium’s director of animal operations, we don’t have much to worry about.
However, despite the abundance of shark sightings around the globe, Parksville Qualicum Beach does have some pretty cool sharks living along our coastline.
Thoney said there are 14 different shark species that grace our waters — some live here permanently while others are only here occasionally.
He said we are home to basking sharks, the second largest shark in the world. Their average size is around 25 feet. But don’t worry, they aren’t hungry for humans as they feed on plankton filtered through the gills of their massive mouths. They have extremely small yet numerous teeth — boasting up to 100 per row. However, their population has been reduced dramatically to the point where they are considered endangered species.
“Basking sharks are now endangered because Canadians killed them early on because they were getting caught in gill nets,” Thoney explained. “They are now highly protected.”
A much smaller but more prevalent shark in the area is known as the spiny dogfish, which Thoney said is commercially fished and grows up to three feet long. He said in the east people often eat spiny dogfish in dishes such as fish and chips.
Additionally, we have sixgill sharks which are primitive species and grow up to 15 feet in size. Thoney said they are generally found in deep water and prey on other fish.
Thoney also said the area is known to host the occasional white shark however they are “very unusual.” White sharks are known for their size and long lifespan with estimates of lifetimes spanning 70 years, making it one of the longest living cartilaginous fish currently known. Moreover white sharks can accelerate to speeds exceeding 50 kilometres per hour. While mammal-eating white sharks were depicted as ferocious animals who endanger people in the popular novel and film Jaws, the shark actually does not prefer to prey on humans.
Thoney said shark attacks near Vancouver Island are “very rare.”
“People in general don’t need to worry about swimming with sharks up here,” he said, adding that most attacks occur in southern areas like California.
Thoney said people’s inherent fear of sharks is definitely bolstered by the media.
“Jaws didn’t help,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s still a great movie.”
Thoney said more Canadians are probably attacked by sharks while vacationing abroad than within Canada.