Canadian Shark?

Occasionally here at SLAW I feel the need to represent the East Coast with an appropriately themed post. Earlier this week an interesting event happened when a Greenland Shark was brought back to Halifax in order to be examined. Why is this interesting? Because this is a shark that can grow over 6 metres in length, weigh over 2000 lbs, (perhaps larger than Great Whites) and we (meaning science type folk) know virtually nothing about it! This animal lives in the coldest, deepest parts of the ocean and a study from the 50’s estimated that they could live to be over 500 years old (although this was likely an overestimate). The scientist who examined the recent shark stated: “we have no idea how long it lives, or how many young it produces, or where it gives birth, how many are out there — we know nothing.

Currently the Greenland Shark, whose primary habitat might actually be in Canadian waters, is the prime suspect behind hundreds of seal carcasses turning up on Sable Island. The interesting part of this is what remains of the carcasses, “It’s almost like they use their teeth to slice open the skin and they strip off the blubber layer inside, which is very high energy, and then they don’t eat the rest of it.” The quotes above are linked to the local story.

The Canadian Shark Research Laboratory at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, which is where the recent specimen was examined, has a profile of the Greenland Shark and hopefully the information contained therein can be updated with this recent specimen because the current profile backs up the point that very little is known about this very large predator. Regarding the Greenland Shark’s diet, Discovery states that, “Greenland shark stomachs have contained pieces of horses and polar bears. One shark even consumed an entire reindeer, antlers and all.” (The previous link also contains a short clip of a diver’s experience with a Greenland Shark). This is all to say that this shark is a serious piece of business that is a virtual unknown. Which is where the legal part comes in. In a country such as Canada bordered on three sides by ocean, what transpires in the sea is of great significance. There are 15 references to Sharks in Canadian legislation, including the Species at Risk Act listing the White and Basking sharks as endangered species. The regulations for the act acknowledge studies that have been done on other sharks and detail why some are added to the endangered list and some are not. I would surmise that it is hard to tell if something is endangered when we have no idea how many there are and a limited understanding of where to find them.

The Atlantic Fisheries Regulations pursuant to the Fisheries Act go into some depth on the allowable methods of fishing for various types of sharks but there is no mention of the Greenland Shark, it is an unknown, and if this is a creature that eats caribou whole and includes polar bears in its diet, it might be a good idea to set down some regulations on how fishers interact with them.

It is fascinating and heartening to me that in this day and age when we are unlocking the genome and it is not unrealistic to say that 3D printers might be used to provide organ transplants, that a prehistoric creature this large can exist and we know virtually nothing about it, and that is the technology part of this post.

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