White shark (Carcharodon carcharias) COSEWIC assessment and status report: chapter 9

Special Significance of the Species

The white shark is the largest predatory fish and the only shark that regularly preys upon marine mammals (Compagno 2001). The species has apparently been known to the Mi’kmaq people of Atlantic Canada for thousands of years: a tooth has been found in an oyster midden dated 1,000 to 2,000 years B.P. at Pig Island, Northumberland Strait, Nova Scotia (Gilhen 1988).

The white shark is notorious for its attacks on humans and boats (Miller and Collier 1981; Burgess and Callahan 1996). Five attacks by white sharks on boats or fishing gear are known from Canadian waters (Figure 3): 1) in 1873 or 1874 a 4 m white shark attacked a dory off the St. Pierre Bank, Newfoundland; it was identified by tooth fragments embedded in the hull (Putnam 1874); 2) in June 1920, a 4.6 m white shark attacked a boat off Hubbard Cove, St. Margaret’s Bay, Nova Scotia; it was identified from scars on the boat and description of a tooth embedded in it (Piers 1934); 3) in July 1932, a 4.6-m white shark attacked a boat 16 km NW of Digby Gut, Nova Scotia; it was identified from a tooth embedded in the hull (Piers 1934); 4) on 9 July 1953, a 3.7 m white shark attacked and sank a dory off Forchu, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, neither of the fishermen was attacked but one of them drowned; the attacker was identified from teeth embedded in the hull (Day and Fisher 1954); and 5) in August 1961, a 4-6 m white shark attacked the canvas float bag of a Pacific coast salmon troller; it was identified from a tooth and several fragments removed from the bag (Collier et al. 1996).

Due to its large size, striking appearance, predatory prowess, and potential dangerousness, the white shark has assumed an almost hagiographic status in popular culture (Ellis 1994). The celebrated cultural status of the white shark makes its jaws and teeth particularly sought-after as curios and its fins as a food additive, the latter especially in markets catering to Asian delicacies and traditional medicines. Even in the face of protective legislation, the high prices some individuals are willing to pay for white shark parts is an incentive likely sufficiently powerful to stimulate and maintain a clandestine black market trading in such goods. However, there is some debate on whether white sharks are targeted for high-value body parts, or whether these enter trade once the animals have been killed in fishery bycatch or a sports fishery.

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