The articles below were taken
from the Saint John Times Globe Sept 3/99
Photographs below were taken by
The Fin of a basking shark breaks the water's surface in the bay of
Fundy near Deer Island
By MIKE HAWKINS
Globe staff writer
Divers, researchers and videographer head
the Bay of Fundy to find, swim with and document basking sharks
Alain deGrasse is in deep water several
kilometres off the coast of Back Bay and he knows this is shark territory.
Just seconds after getting in the water, he realizes he's got
a problem with his diving gear.
His water-tight "dry
suit" turned out to be a bad choice as it limited how fast he could
Then, a menacing, black, triangular fin of a shark
appears just metres away, leaving a wake as it slices through the
The shark was barreling down on him as he
frantically kicked his legs to get out of its path.
The 30-foot, seven-tonne shark had its mouth
open and its mind on a meal.
Mr. DeGrasse froze for a
second and braced himself.
The head of the shark went
right under him but its huge dorsal fin caught him in the right rib cage,
lifting him up, then depositing him back in the water, only to be hit again on
the right leg by the massive tail fin.
"My God he hit me
hard. I can't believe how hard he hit me. I tried to get out of the way but it
just moved too fast," Mr. deGrasse would later recount back in the boat, his
side and legs covered with a layer of slime from the shark's
Actually, this moment of suspense was not as
dangerous as it might seem. It was indeed a shark that he had this encounter
with but it was nothing like the Great Whites of horror movie
This was a basking shark and the meal it had on its
mind was plankton, not people. The shark was moving along just under the
surface of the water at about two knots, its mouth wide open filtering huge
amounts of water as it collects its microscopic meal.
deGrasse meant to swim alongside the gentle giant when it suddenly changed
course and unknowingly tossed him like a rag doll.
have a few bruises but that's okay. It's pretty cool to get hit by a shark,"
Mr. deGrasse said.
His battle scars are all in the name of
Mr. deGrasse was one of several divers
in search of basking sharks in the Bay of Fundy this week as part of an
expedition on the Mary-0, a research boat owned by the University of New
Brunswick in Saint John.
The divers were made up of a
research team as well as a pair of American videographers hoping to do a
documentary on the sharks.
Each time a shark was spotted,
the men positioned themselves in front of it and dove in, hoping to view it,
touch it and film it.
Dr. Steve Turnbull, a professor in
the biology department at UNBSJ, organized the expedition to do research on the
massive and mysterious basking shark.
is known about basking sharks. Research has in the past been prohibitively
expensive as the animals' whereabouts have not accurately been mapped and no
one really knows where to go to find them.
The Bay of
Fundy, however, is one of few places the sharks return to with any
predictability. The sharks have been spotted for many years in these waters
usually in August or September.
"But we have no idea
where they came from or where they go when they leave," Prof. Turnbull
During the three-day expedition, Prof. Turnbull, an
experienced diver himself, intended to tag the shark's fins in hopes of
tracking their movements.
Unfortunately, the big fish were
a little too quick to be tagged during the first day of their
"They were too skittish. As soon as you got
up to them they would just dive," Prof. Turnbull said.
on this day, other missions of this expedition would take
Along with Mr. deGrasse and Prof. Turnbull was
Dr. Mike Wilkie, a professor in the biology department of Mount Allison
University in Sackville.
Prof. Wilkie is doing research
on lower invertebrates, such as the eel like lamprey.
lamprey is a small parasitic fish that feeds by attaching latching its jaws
onto other sea creatures and recently has been discovered feeding off of
Prof. Wilkie jumped at the chance to come
along on the expedition in hopes of nabbing a lamprey off a shark's
After several attempts by the divers, it would be
one of the American videographers that would finally snatch a lamprey off the
back of one of the huge fish.
Nearing the end of day one
of their mission, a basking shark was spotted near the Deer Island. After the
Mary 0 was placed in what the researchers guessed was the shark's probable
path, videographer Jonathan Bird of Oceanic Research Group near Boston,
Massachusetts, suited up with just a snorkel and jumped in front of the
As the other divers watched anxiously from the
boat, the shark dipped down and moved just under the small zodiac tied to the
Mr. Bird followed the shark down and moments later
"I GOT A LAMPREY!!" he exclaimed, gasping for
Mr. Wilkie retrieved the lamprey from Mr. Bird and
placed it in a specially designed holding tank to be examined and
Meanwhile, videographer Tim Greers, who's a
partner with Mr. Bird, got the whole thing on video
Overall, the researchers and documentary team felt
they had good luck, having been within an arm's reach of about half a dozen of
the exotic creatures.
For Mr. deGrasse, a diving
enthusiast who works at NBTel by day, it produced not only bumps and bruises,
but an experience he'll probably be telling his grandchildren about some day. "
I had to take an extra day off work to do this but I just told myself, you've
got to do it because you'll never forget it."