Shark sightings

When viewing a shark in the ocean be sure to note a few key characteristics that may help you identify it later. These include:

  • colour;
  • shape of the head;
  • body shape and size;
  • length of the pectoral fins;
  • size and shape of the upper and lower caudal (tail) fin; and
  • size and position of the first dorsal fin compared to the second fin.

Most people don't know what to do when and if they see a shark. The answer is: enjoy the view from a safe distance. Sharks are wild animals, and deserve the same level of respect given to any other wild animal. They are fun to watch from a distance, but should never be touched or approached too closely.

Help protect sharks

Be careful not to hit a shark with your boat. Basking sharks in particular are at risk of vessel strikes as they are slow-moving and are often encountered while feeding or “basking” on the surface. Propellers may injure a basking shark as they slowly swim away from a vessel.

Sightings in Atlantic Canada

The vast majority of shark sightings around the waters of Nova Scotia are of basking sharks, porbeagles, spiny dogfish or blue sharks. The other species that are found in Canadian waters are not generally found inshore or near the surface.

Basking sharks

A very large shark (20 to 30 feet long) swimming at the surface is most likely a plankton-feeding basking shark. They are often found swimming in coastal waters in summer. Despite their size, they’re usually gentle animals.

A basking shark seen in Neil's Harbour, Cape Breton. Photo courtesy of Monique Breau.

A basking shark seen in Neil's Harbour, Cape Breton. Photo courtesy of Monique Breau.

Photo of basking shark near Percé, Quebec. Photo courtesy of André and Joel Berthelot.

Photo of basking shark near Percé, Quebec. Photo courtesy of André and Joel Berthelot.

Image of basking sharks on the surface near Emerald Basin, photo courtesy of Patrick Gray.

Image of basking sharks on the surface near Emerald Basin, photo courtesy of Patrick Gray.

Porbeagle sharks

It is not uncommon for porbeagle sharks to stray in close to shore in late summer, and to be seen on or near the surface. This species eats only fish and squid, and is generally not considered to be a threat to people.

Spiny dogfish

A small group of sharks 3 to 4 feet in size, swimming in inshore waters is almost certainly made up of spiny dogfish. Dogfish often school together and can be found both at the surface and at depth.

Blue sharks

Blue sharks have also been abundant off Nova Scotia, but seldom stray into waters less than 100 feet deep. They usually only appear at the surface when feeding, so sightings of them aren’t as common.

Shortfin makos

Some years many shortfin makos are seen offshore. The increased number of mako sightings is likely due to warmer surface water temperatures compared to other years.

Scuba divers do not normally encounter sharks while diving in Atlantic Canadian waters, but on rare occasions that they do, they see the shark species listed above.

Learn more about sharks found in Atlantic Canada.

Sighting of Greenland sharks in Quebec

In 2003 an increased number of sightings of the Greenland shark were reported in the Baie Comeau area of Quebec. In the spring of 2003, a group of researchers were able to successfully film and photograph a number of these sharks. Many previous years were spent searching in other areas along the St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers for these sharks.

Approximately 27 live sightings were recorded in the summer of 2004 by both researchers and local divers. In addition, 4 Greenland sharks were found washed up on the shore dead or dying. These sharks were examined by researchers, although the cause of these incidents is unknown.

Frame from video footage showing a blue shark swimming past a scuba diver. A shark cage is visible in the background. Photo courtesy of Chris Jensen.

Frame from video footage showing a blue shark swimming past a scuba diver. A shark cage is visible in the background. Photo courtesy of Chris Jensen.

Image of a Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) and diver taken in 2004 in the Baie Comeau area of Quebec.

Image of a Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) and diver taken in 2004 in the Baie Comeau area of Quebec.