A group of British Columbia scuba divers on Vancouver Island spotted a bluntnose sixgill shark on a recent dive in Alberni Inlet, capturing what they say is rare footage of the animal in shallow waters.
Connor McTavish says he and fellow divers Garrett Clement, Danton West and Matteo Endrizzi were exploring around a shipwreck late last month when he spotted something out of the corner of his eye.
McTavish says he used a flashlight and hand signals to alert the others that he saw a big shark, and their initial disbelief turned to amazement when their cameras were able to capture footage of the animal, estimated at about two-metres long.
“It was just going through my mind that I’m in its element. It’s just curious. [You] just stay calm and watch it pass, and that’s the best I can do,” McTavish said. “For the most part, it was just amazement and wonder at how beautiful the thing was.”
Clement describes McTavish as the diver among them with the least amount of experience with sharks and says he initially didn’t believe him.
“I remember looking at him and going, ‘Really?’ We go over, and there’s nothing there, but he’s looking around like a madman. We don’t see anything. We can’t really talk when we’re scuba diving, so we just continue on our dive.”
Ten minutes later, their underwater dive became something he says they won’t soon forget.
“We just went along the side of the shipwreck. We were just looking down, and all of a sudden, someone’s light beam caught an outline of a shark swimming along the bottom of the shipwreck.”
Sixgill shark a rare sight
According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the sixgill shark, or Hexanchus griseus, can grow up to 4.8 metres long and has two rows of teeth.
Endrizzi says while he was excited by the sight, he’s most grateful he had his camera in hand to capture video proof of what they saw before their eyes.
“Usually, these sharks live in deep, deep water at 2,500 metres,” he said.
“It’s a deep-water shark, and no one knows why they come to the shallows. There are a lot of theories, but no one really knows.”
The divers later posted the video on Clement’s Uncharted Odyssey YouTube channel.
WATCH | A bluntnose sixgill shark swims near a shipwreck in Alberni Inlet:
Endrizzi says the group reached out to the DFO to notify it of the encounter, which he said was “very grateful” to receive the information considering how few sightings there are.
“If anyone does come across one, it’s a rare occurrence, and I definitely encourage them to reach out to DFO so that data can be recorded, and we can get more information on these really cool creatures,” said Endrizzi.
Rarely aggressive to humans
Chris Harvey-Clark, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has studied bluntnose sixgill sharks in the waters off Vancouver. He said the species has a giant mouth and saw teeth and eats everything, but he doesn’t think swimmers should be too nervous about the creatures taking a bite out of them.
“There have been many, many diver encounters with this species, and nobody’s ever really had an aggressive encounter with a sixgill,” he said.
Harvey-Clark added that they’re a slow-moving, relatively sedentary bottom-feeding species, and their favourite food is stuff that’s already dead.
“If you want to see a sixgill really get active, throw some salmon offal on the bottom … That’s really what they’re after.”