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Young white shark found on P.E.I. park beach may have starved to death

A juvenile great white shark washing up on a P.E.I. shore might have once been considered a rare occurrence. But scientists say such incidents are becoming more frequent.

'I was hoping to find sea glass, driftwood — but not a shark,' says startled tourist

A shark on a beach

A shark doesn't wash up on a Prince Edward Island coastline every day, but scientists say finds like the one made this week are becoming more frequent.

Flo Durelle was visiting the Island from Dieppe, N.B., with family and friends. On Monday, she noticed some commotion as she walked along the beach at Greenwich, a part of P.E.I. National Park that's located just north of St. Peter's Bay.

"Honest to goodness, I couldn't believe it. At the time, we didn't even know if it was alive or dead because the waves were swishing it around so much," Durelle said.

"I was hoping to find sea glass, driftwood — but not a shark."

Parks Canada officials sent CBC News a statement on Tuesday confirming a 2.6-metre "juvenile great white shark" had been found at Greenwich and sent to the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown for a necropsy.

A shark on a beach.

"The Atlantic white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) is listed as endangered under Schedule 1 of the Canadian Species at Risk Act," the statement said. "These sharks have always been present in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, though it is historically rare for these sharks to wash up on the shores of P.E.I. National Park."

The Greenwich incident is just the latest in a series of encounters with white sharks across Atlantic Canada in recent years.

Dead white sharks have been spotted on other beaches in the region, and anecdotally, fishers say they're seeing more live sharks as well — including some in P.E.I. waters.

Experts say shark encounters are becoming more common as populations rebound due to protective measures in Canada and the U.S., and as the number of grey seals in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean booms.

"[The shark] population is rebounding incredibly," said Steve Crawford, associate professor at the University of Guelph's department of integrative biology. "People are going to hear about and see more white sharks this year — and for the foreseeable number of years — than ever before."

An upside-down shark on a beach.

Shark likely starved

Crawford said the reason sharks are increasingly washing up on Atlantic shores is a mystery, but it's possible younger white sharks may not be finding enough food when they make their migration north.

"They feed on predominantly fish when they're younger and they make a transition to larger fish like tuna or marine mammals up in Atlantic Canada," he said.

"If the grey seals are too big for them to tackle and they can't find smaller marine mammals to feed on, it's possible these juveniles are running into starvation issues here."

The sharks usually migrate back south in September and October, Crawford said.

He said there should be more signage on Atlantic beaches informing people that various types of sharks do actually come to the region, and stressing that being "shark-smart" is important.

Sharks are a natural and important part of the ecosystem and public safety concerns are minimal.

— Parks Canada

"There's a lot of visitors that come to the beaches, they have no ideas white sharks come here seasonally," he said.

Parks Canada said in its statement that while it's aware the presence of white sharks can cause anxiety, visitors should know the likelihood of a shark encounter is low.

"Sharks are a natural and important part of the ecosystem and public safety concerns are minimal," officials said.

Mysterious creatures

Crawford is working on a research project looking into what Indigenous and other local knowledge-keepers across the Northwest Atlantic know about great white sharks that scientists may not.

He said he hopes his research sheds light on the animal's courtship and mating territories, which are still poorly understood.

Meanwhile, he said his conversations may have yielded insight on some other behaviours.

"Fishermen have started thinking that perhaps the white sharks, rather than chasing the tuna themselves… are pretty clever and now they're chasing the tuna fishery," Crawford said.

"They figure [that] somehow the sharks have figured that if they follow that boat, there's a good chance that there's a tuna that will be behind it that could be an easy meal."

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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