When yelling “Shark!” is a good thing

Great white shark sightings off the coast of Nova Scotia are helping us learn more about how to protect this endangered species
hilton great white shark Hilton is a large great white shark that scientists are tracking to try and learn more about this species. (Ocearch/R. Snow)

The great white shark may be one of the most feared creatures on the planet, but they have a lot to fear themselves. These sharks are a threatened species, and even endangered in some parts of their normal range.

One such place is in Canadian waters, which is why a pair of recent great white sightings off the coast of Nova Scotia has people saying "Yay!", not "Yikes!" Not only is this a rare chance to observe a species that normally lives in water that is deeper and farther from shore, but it could also offer important clues into the behaviour of this fish.

Meet Hilton, George, and Pumpkin

hilton great white shark

Hilton getting his tag so that researchers can track him. (R. Snow/Ocearch.org)

Researchers have tagged the great whites and given them names (of course!). There's a 600 kg (1,320 lb.) male named Hilton, a slightly smaller male named George, and 300 kg (660 lb.) female called... Pumpkin! Adorable, right?

This trio, as well as several other sharks, have been sighted around Nova Scotia for much of the summer. You can even follow Hilton on Twitter as he tours the Nova Scotia coastline.

Why this all matters

george great white shark

George's dentist must be very proud! (R. Snow/Ocearch.org)

There is much more behind this tracking than just spying on a bunch of great whites. Scientists are hopeful that by learning more about these animals, especially where they mate, they can learn better how to protect them. Fred Whoriskey works at the Ocean Tracking Network at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

"We're beginning to build up a picture of the movement and where the animals are going," he told CBC's The National. "We need to find the places where the males and females are co-occurring and perhaps pausing for a little bit in the same place at the same time and that's going to give you your first hints."

So if scientists like Whoriskey can prove that a certain area is prime shark-mating waters, they can ask the government to make it a sanctuary for these threatened fish.

No worries, folks

So great whites are swimming in the same waters that people use for fun. Experts are quick to let people know that they have nothing to worry about. Sure, the tagging of Hilton, George, and Pumpkin is making people more aware of great whites in their midst. But them swimming here is nothing new, while Canada has yet to have a single reported shark attack.

"This is the normal range for a white shark to be," Whoriskey explained to CBC.

And hopefully, it will be for a long time to come!

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