Photographer - Nick
Caloyianis Slow and spooky, an 11-foot [3.4-meter] shark cruises past a
submerged ice ledge where seals often rest. Never before photographed beneath
Arctic ice, the Greenland shark, whose scientific name, Somniosus
microcephalus, means small-headed sleeper, has eluded close study
until now. From Greenland Sharks, September 1998,
National Geographic magazine
Greenland shark is Canada's Crocodile
By LES PERREAUX
QUEBEC - The giant shark
goes by the name Sleeper but kills large caribou after lying in wait -
crocodile-style - at the mouth of Canada's northern rivers.
Canadian researchers are now trying to unravel the
mysteries surrounding the great northern Greenland shark after at least four of
them were discovered in the St. Lawrence River near Baie-Comeau, Que.
"We've got so many things through these dives and this
footage that we didn't have a clue about before," said Jeffrey Gallant, a shark
researcher who went diving in June with at least four Greenland sharks.
"We've been working on this shark for years and it's
extremely exciting to be learning so much."
researchers knew the Greenland shark ventured along the St. Lawrence, a diving
team led by Gallant and co-researcher Chris HarveyClark took what is believed
to be the first known video of the fish swimming freely in a natural
The footage and close-up observation are
debunking several myths about the shark, starting with the theory that the
animal is dopey and docile.
When Gallant and his
researchers swam near the sharks, the fish assumed a defensive stance with its
pectoral fins pointing downwards, similar to the pose of Caribbean reef sharks
when they feel threatened.
On one dive, a shark stalked
the divers as they surfaced, likely to check them out as potential prey. While
the shark was previously thought to be nearly blind, the behaviour showed it
could see the divers.
"That was the only time anyone felt
threatened," said Gallant, regional director of Canada's Shark Research
Institute. "The shark came up and saw that the divers were not seals and left
them alone. The rest of the time, we tried to give it as much leeway as
Along with better-than expected vision, the
animals demonstrated they were curious.
"I jumped off a
dock where they said they'd seen one and within two minutes I was diving with a
10-foot (threemetre) shark," Gallant said. "They were coming to us."
Some amateur divers have expressed concern that the Lower
St. Lawrence may not be safe with the presence of a shark that can be more than
six metres long and weigh up to 1,000 kilograms.
said sharks, including the Greenland, rarely present a threat to people in
Canada. Among other factors, cold water slows the shark and it tries to expend
as little energy as possible.
However, Gallant warned
that rogue thrill-seeking divers should give the shark a wide berth.
"If you jump in and try to grab it by the tail and go for
a ride, you're going to get nipped," Gallant said.
this is something people actually do." Sylvain Sirois, a diver from
Baie-Comeau, 420 kilometres northeast of Quebec City on the St. Lawrence,
stumbled across the shark in May while completing a dive at about 20 metres
below the surface.
He said he was never worried about the
"It was shocking to see it but it really
filled me with a feeling of wonder," Sirois said. "It's the first word that
came to mind and it's the only word that works. Wonder."
"We haven't seen them in a while, so we think they were
just passing through," said Sirois, an instructor who also runs a diving shop.
Gallant's team has found evidence that some Greenland sharks spend more time
outside the Arctic Circle.
Jeffrey Gallant/ Aqualog.com A Greenland
shark swims by frilled anemones off Baie-Comeau, Que.