A group of scuba divers are still in disbelief after a close encounter with a bluntnose sixgill shark in waters south of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island late last month.
The sharks appeared from the depths of the Alberni Inlet as the divers explored a wreck together. It swam among them slowly for several minutes that were caught on camera in the light of their underwater flashlights.
“When we first saw it, there was a lot of excitement. For me personally, it was just a matter of, ‘I gotta get the camera on, because if I don’t film this, no one is going to believe us,’” recalled dive master Matteo Endrizzi.
“That’s a big shark, kind of surreal,” added Connor McTavish, who saw the shark first. “It was such a bit of fear, but amazement. It was such a beautiful thing to see.”
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The bluntnose sixgill shark — also known as a cow shark — tends to live in deep waters, which makes human encounters rare, Endrizzi said.
According to Environment Canada’s profile of the animal, it has six gill slits instead of the usual five, along with six rows of large lower teeth and smaller pointed upper teeth. Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Department also says they can grow to 18 feet in length and weigh up to 1,300 pounds, and live as long as 80 years.
Cow sharks are known to appear off the coast of Vancouver Island and around Puget Sound, and while their population in Canadian waters is unknown, estimates based on tagging studies suggest there are at least 7,900 of them.
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Endrizzi said there were about 40 divers in the Alberni Inlet at the end of May, but none saw the shark.
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“I was talking to one diver who’s been diving for over 20 years and has over 2,000 dives, and been down very deep — more than most divers — so you would think he would have the best chance of seeing one of these rare sharks, and he’s never seen one,” he said.
“He was quite jealous when he found out that’s indeed what we saw.”
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While the divers aren’t sure why the creature had risen from the depths to see them, after reviewing their footage multiple times, they believe it was “curious” about their flashlights.
“It kind of came to my light, then went over to Garrett’s and came back to mine, and just kind of circled in between us,” Endrizzi said.
“It’s not known to be an aggressive shark. From what we can tell, it’s a juvenile.”
The group has notified Fisheries and Oceans Canada of the sighting, remarking on a lack of research on bluntnose sixgill sharks in Canadian waters.
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