Great White Breaching


The Big One
...that didn't get away from a brave group of Grand Manan fishermen back in 1930

by Brian Kemp
Times Globe staff writer

   This is a Bay of Fundy legend.
   A great white shark was caught in a herring weir off White Head Island in 1930—a shark some say was the biggest great white ever captured on the planet.
   The story goes something like this:
   In June of 1930, a great white shark was spotted in a herring weir off the coast of Grand Manan. By all accounts, it was a monster.
   Great Whites were considered dangerous long before the movie Jaws came along. Man-eaters, some called them. When Grand Manan fishermen were out on the Bay of Fundy handlining, great white sharks would occasionally attempt to seize a fishermen's catch before it could be hauled into the boat, legend has it.
Great White Attacking a boat   Other fishermen recorded more serious encounters with the notorious great whites, including the time a rather large specimen bit at the underside of a boat off Grand Manan, leaving a tooth behind and gouge marks along the bottom of the craft.
   So on that summer day in 1930, the local lads approached the weir holding the huge great white with caution substantially heightened by its size – 37 feet, or more than 12 metres, by all accounts.
   Word spread quickly and the locals began to congregate at the weir.
   Two brave souls apparently went into the weir in a dingy. In a scene right out of The Old Man and the Sea, the great white promptly bit the side of the boat and "crushed it like an egg shell," a witness was reported to have said, according to an article which appeared in the Evening Times Globe almost a decade ago.
   The men somehow evaded the shark's giant jaws and were eventually able to get a line on the tail of the great creature and tie it "to a boat with lots of power," the witness said.
   They towed the struggling shark to White Head. At 'times, the giant stopped the dingy dead in the water, legend has it.
   But the shark eventually lost the titanic battle and the fishermen tied it to the breakwater, where it died an unceremonious death.
   When the creature was cut open, more than 210 gallons of shark oil was taken from its insides. Onlookers and fishermen secured some of the creature's large teeth for souvenirs.
   A Bay of Fundy legend was born.
   But like most legends, some questions surround it.
    The largest great white shark ever caught was a 7-metre-long beast nabbed off the coast of Cuba in 1948, says Stephen Turnbull, a professor of marine biology at the Saint John campus of the University of New Brunswick. That specimen weighed well over 3,300 kilograms.
   The length of the great white caught off Grand Manan in 1930 was probably "way over exaggerated," Prof. Turnbull said. If the stories are true, it would have been the size of a sperm whale.
    It's not uncommon he said, for a great white shark to reach lengths of over 15 feet (5 metres), and it would be very uncommon for one to reach a length of more than 20 feet (or nearly 7 metres).
    Able to cover large distances, great whites swim into the Bay of Fundy in the summer months to feed on marine mammals such as, seals and, porpoises. Younger, smaller ones feed on fish.
    They do swim into our waters but as far as researchers can tell they are not frequent visitors.
   Bev Scott, senior, scientist at the Huntsman Marine Centre in St.Andrews, has done some research into the White Head legend.
    He says a tooth that was reportedly taken from the shark indicates it was probably 17 to 18 feet long, or, no more than 6 metres.    Great whites could reach a maximum size of about 26 feet (almost 9 metres), according to Jack Randall, a shark scientist in Hawaii.
    Mr. Scott said sharks which are 10 metres long do visit the Bay of Fundy, but they are basking sharks, which are peaceful creatures that feed on minute organisms.
   A published report in 1935 discussed the size of the White Head, shark, but it was based on hearsay, Mr. Scott said. "They reported it, but it happened five years earlier."
    He pointed out that stories tend to grow as time goes by - especially when you're, dealing with the length of fish. "It's a fascinating thing, but we're never going to solve it. But it's kind of interesting. Thirty-seven feet is a hell of a lot of shark."
   The white shark is a coastal and offshore inhabitant of the continental shelves of the warmer zones of the world's oceans. Growth is estimated to, be 25-30 centimetres per year for the first 15 years and 22 centimetres for older animals. A 7 metre, animal could therefore be older than 30 years.
    White shark litters are thought to consist of about seven to nine pups. The gestation period is not known but the large size of the pups suggests a gestation period of at least a year and possible as long as two.
   A female may give birth. only a few times in a lifetime.
   Taken from the Saint John Regional Library Archives.