Hilton the shark looks for his “happy place”

by Stacey Colwell

  • <p>OCEARCH PHOTO</p><p>Hilton the great white shark endures receiving an acoustic monitoring tag.</p>
  • <p>OCEARCH PHOTO</p><p>Hilton the great white shark was caught off South Carolina last year before being released with an acoustic monitoring tag.</p>

Like many tourists, a nearly four-metre long great white shark has been spending some time in Mahone Bay this summer.

The mature male dubbed "Hilton" by researchers was caught in South Carolina last year and tagged with a tracking device that has followed him to the South Shore, where he spent at least a couple days near Lockport before being detected off Liverpool on August 2.

He was next picked up relatively close to shore in or near the Narrows Basin, which is between Indian Point and Martins Point, at 7 a.m. on August 6, then somewhere offshore of Second Peninsula or Big Tancook Island a short time later.

The accuracy of the "pings" that detect Hilton's location depends how long he surfaces for, and can be anywhere from precise to perhaps within a few kilometres.

"We know for sure Hilton was in that bay," said Chris Fischer, expedition leader for Ocearch, the organization that tagged and tracks him.

"There are still a lot of questions to be answered about activity and behaviour of white sharks in Atlantic Canada, but it is probably looking for seals and other prey," said Warren Joyce, a shark expert at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.

However, there is another reason Hilton may have made his way to Nova Scotia: Late summer and fall is mating season for great whites, and he may be looking for love.

"If he spends a month or two in one spot, it could mean he's identifying a mating site, which is a huge leap forward in science and management," said Fischer.

In other parts of world, mating places have large seal colonies, and the water off Sable Island has been a suspected North Atlantic mating ground.

"It would be really interesting if he kind of made his way along the coast, milled around and then popped out to Sable Island for an extended period of time. That would be truly fascinating."

Fischer said researchers have not been surprised that great whites visit our shores, and just earlier this summer one named Pumpkin was detected in the Bay of Fundy, but that all of the previous great whites tracked here were females.

"It's super exciting right now to be watching Hilton and to have a big, mature male because we should see him find a happy place in the next 30 days."

Fischer said although great whites have a notorious reputation and many people have irrational fears about them, attacks on humans are extremely rare, and we are far more likely to be killed by dogs, on a farm, driving a car or even crossing the street.

"The biggest thing you should be terrified of is an ocean that's not full of large sharks ... They are the balance keeper at the top of the food chain."

Joyce said large sharks are misunderstood and that there has never been a direct attack on a human in Canadian waters, but that people need to use common sense if they do encounter one.

"These are large, wild predators in their natural environment - not ours - enjoy the encounter, as they are rare, but give the animal the respect it deserves."

White sharks are a protected species in Canada, which means they cannot be harassed or harmed in any way.

Anyone who sees a shark is encouraged to report it to 1-844-400-7870.

To follow Hilton's whereabouts, check on-line at www.ocearch.org/profile/hilton/ or on Twitter at @HiltonTheShark.

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