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Pumpkin the great white shark shows up off Cheverie

The 300-kilogram shark, which was tagged with a transmitter off Cape Cod last summer, is likely feeding on seals in the Minas Basin.
Pumpkin is a great white shark that tracked in the Minas Basin and the mouth of the Avon River on Saturday. (GREGORY SKOMAL)

Pumpkin the great white shark has been hanging out in the Minas Basin.

The 300-kilogram shark, which was tagged with a transmitter off Cape Cod last summer, showed up on underwater receivers Saturday near Cheverie, where Kings-Hants MP Scott Brison was planning his annual barbecue that took place Sunday. Data from receivers shows the 2.7-metre-long shark also swam near Bramber, Kempt Shore, Avonport and the mouth of the Avon River.

“She was over visiting Scotty before his big old picnic,” said Darren Porter, a local fisherman who regularly checks the receivers in the area as part of a study being conducted for a tidal power company.

Pumpkin is likely feeding on seals, Porter said.

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“There are quite a few seals around that area right now,” he said.

Porter, who fishes from a dory, isn’t particularly worried about Pumpkin’s presence. “I just don’t get in the water. But in my boat I’m fine.”

There’s no disadvantage to having the beautiful creatures in the area, he said. “They keep the seals in control. It balances nature.”

Greg Skomal tagged Pumpkin on July 15, 2016.

“We hire a plane to spot the sharks off the Cape, and then we approach them in a small vessel,” said Skomal, a biologist and senior scientist at the Massachusetts division of Marine Fisheries.

“Then we place the tag at the base of the dorsal fin using a long tagging pole and an intramuscular dart.”

He’s not surprised Pumpkin popped up in Nova Scotia waters.

“We’ve had a number of sharks that we’ve tagged over the years detected in the Minas Basin,” Skomal said, noting there have been six since 2011.

He agrees with Porter that Pumpkin is likely feasting on seals. “I suspect that if she’s having good success foraging in that area, she may go back year after year.”

The risk posed by Pumpkin’s presence in the area is likely pretty low, he said. “You guys don’t have any shark attacks there and I’m sure that the sharks have been going there for years.”

A philanthropist who sponsored Skomal’s research chose the name Pumpkin for the shark. “It’s purely ironic that it happens to go to pumpkin country.”

shark-and-seals-708A great white shark, top right, swims next to a group of seals off of Cape Cod. (Massachusetts division of Marine Fisheries)

The white shark population off the eastern seaboard is rebounding after periods of low abundance due to over-exploitation, he said.

“It is responding to conservation,” Skomal said.

White sharks were largely bycatch in fisheries targeting other types of shark, tuna and swordfish, he said. “We think that knocked the population down in the ’70s and ’80s, and then we put some protection in place in the U.S. in 1997 and … it’s listed as a species at risk in Canadian waters. So it’s got some level of protection there as well. And so it’s responding and it seems like the population is coming back.”

Vemco, a division of Nova Scotia’s Amirix Systems Inc., made the transmitter that helped give away Pumpkin’s position.

“For years they send out a signal. So wherever they go in the Atlantic Ocean, they ping, and if they go by somebody’s receiver, you pick it up,” Porter said.

Big Moon Power, which aims to launch a tidal project in the area, paid for the receivers he checks as a volunteer.

“It’s not just for sharks,” Porter said. “This morning we have 107 fish that had transmitters in them we detected.”

He helped implant a total of 60 skate, American shad and striped bass with the tracking tags. But there are loads of other outfits tagging sea life, including Acadia University, Dalhousie University’s Ocean Tracking Network, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“If it comes by our receivers, we pick it up,” Porter said.

He goes out at low tide with a computer to download the information from the receivers about what’s swimming past.

Pumpkin’s arrival in Nova Scotia waters comes just in time for Shark Week, the Discovery Channel’s focus on all things toothy, fast and grey.

“Who doesn’t like Shark Week?” Porter said. “There are very few people who don’t watch it.”

In other shark-related news, Big Spruce Brewing out of Nyanza, Victoria County, is slated to release Tag! You’re It in early August. A portion of the sales will support ocean research work.


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Chris Lambie

About the Author: Chris Lambie

Chris Lambie is a journalist based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has worked at newspapers from Newfoundland to the Northwest Territories.
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