New Brunswick

A basking shark has washed up in Grand Manan. Experts say it is a rarity in winter

A shark that washed up on a beach in Grand Manan is drawing the attention of visitors. But scientists say it's an unusual find for this time of year.

'They're usually here through the summer and fall months, so February is a little bit late for them'

A man in winter clothes and a dead shark
Photographer Gary Weekes said the sight of a 7.6-metre basking shark is something he’d never experienced. (Gary Weekes)

An unusual find on the southeast shore of Grand Manan Island is attracting the attention of locals and visitors.

A 7.6-metre basking shark washed up on the island's shore earlier this month.

Island resident Debbie Bath first came across the carcass while out for her evening walk.

"Just very surprised," said Bath of her reaction. "We didn't realize what it was until we got up to it and then it was the initial, 'Wow, this is a very large fish.'"

A basking shark swims in the ocean. (Chris Gotschalk)

Filmmaker Catherine D'Aoust, who was on the island making a documentary, said she was unprepared for the size of the shark.

"It looks like a boulder on the beach," said D'Aoust. "Didn't look like a shark from 20 feet away."

Photographer Gary Weekes, who is working with D'Aoust, was also impressed by the sight of the animal.

Originally from London, England, he'd never seen a shark up close before. "When I heard about this … I thought it would be essential that we took time out [to see the shark]."

Unusual timing

While the breed of shark isn't a rarity in the Bay of Fundy, it's unusual for the animal to be in the area in the winter, experts say.

"They're usually here through the summer and fall months, so February is a little bit late for them to be here in this area," said Nicole Leavitt, senior marine biologist for St. Andrew's Sport Fishing Co. and Island Quest Whale Watching.

Andrew Westgate, senior scientist with the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station, said: "I've never heard of a basking shark washing up in the winter time."

A dead shark
Filmmaker Catherine D’Aoust said the shark looked like a boulder on the beach when she first saw it. (Catherine D’Aoust)

Westgate said he can't say why the shark was in the area in February without an examination. But he said the shark appears to have been underfed, which could indicate a larger issue.

"[It could] indicate that the shark … basically starved to death," said Westgate.

Leavitt said if anyone encounters a beached shark, they should contact the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"Samples that could be taken are important research tools," said Leavitt.

With files from Lars Schwarz