Basking Shark


NOEL CHENIER/TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL gating the remains of a basking shark that washed up on the shore near Seaside Park are, Mary Sollows, left, and Katelynn Vandebroeck, f the New Brunswick Museum and Steve Turnbull of the University of New Brunswick Saint John.

Scientists studying Basking Shark


    A steady stream of people made the trying trek over the rocks near Seaside Park Wednesday to take a close look at a 7.3-metre basking shark that washed up on the beach.
   What killed the four-ton shark might remain as much a mystery as the creature itself.
   The four-ton shark was found Tuesday, Steve Turnbull, a shark researcher at UNBSJ, said little is known about the basking shark, which is a vulnerable species. Because 25 per cent of its weight is liver, the prehistoric beast was almost hunted to extinction for its oil.
   "He's an early arriver,"Turnbull said. "Usually they come in with the food source;' in the summer.
   Warmer waters bring plankton and the gaping mouths of the basking sharks. While it's a hulking beast and has a row of tiny teeth, the basking shark is a harmless filter feeder.
   "They open their mouths and every thing goes through," Turnbull said as he inspected the shark.
    A small army of researchers armed with cameras, knifes, buckets and tape measures descended on the beach as the news spread.
   Turnbull said the mammoth fish could have become tangled up in fishing nets and drowned, but there were no fresh scars visible. If the shark can't swim, it will drown.
   Two large appendages, which looked like a pair malformed legs and hung from the bottom of the shark, signify it a male. Called claspers, the appendages are used to hold onto the female during mating.
   Don McAlpine, research curator of zoology at the New Brunswick Museum, said museum staff would collect a number of samples for the archives. He said they also planned to try and remove the lower jaw.
   "It's not too common," he said of the shark's washing up on a local beach. "I don't think we have more than a half dozen in the collection now."
   Determining the age is difficult, Turnbull said.
   The only way to be positive is to remove and study its vertebrae. The vertebrae form rings as they age similar to the rings trees form as they age.
   Only the whale shark, the largest shark on the planet, dwarfs the basking shark.
   In 1851, the largest basking shark ever caught was found in a herring net in the Bay of Fundy. It measured a massive 12.3 metres and weighed a staggering 19 tons.
   The one found Tuesday evening was of average length and weight.
   The shark's dark greyish skin is rough to the touch and not smooth as one would expect.
   Turnbull said the effect of the sandpaper-like skin is to allow the shark to glide through the water. The suits that competitive swimmers wear mimic the shark's rough skin and the hydrodynamic effect it creates.
   "It's one of the most efficient designs in natures "Turnbull said. "They's not so graceful on the beach, though."
   Because of the location, getting any heavy equipment to the site to dig a hole and bury it would be difficult. The only hope is that it is washed back out to sea before the smell overwhelms area homes.
   As of Wednesday morning, the stench was barely noticeable, but as the fish began to cook in the hot sun, the smell grew. Researchers would normally cut into the shark, but McAlpine said that is not likely because then the smell becomes overpowering.
   "If we open it up, we're going to bear some responsibility for it,"he said.

Shark caught of Alma

This is a letter from a lady who's husband works for Parks Canada and was involved in the reporting of the shark:
   A shark caught in nets just a few kms from the wharf in Alma. Because he works for Parks Canada in it was on Park territory, the staff had to investigate. They pulled it out of the water this morning. I thought my husband was pulling my leg, so I told him I needed proof. It is about 28 feet long. It is huge and very scary. These are pictures of the shark! I told him I wanted to see him next to the shark, or I wouldn't believe him. So if you ever think about going for a swim in Fundy Park, I would think twice about that idea. They said because of Global Warming, this will happen more and more. The ocean water here in Canada is getting warmer every year.