A surf school catches white waves at Wickaninnish Beach in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Earlier in July, a surfer said he saw a large shark while enjoying a session way out back past the white waves. (Nora O’Malley / Westerly News)

Vancouver Island surfer watches 12-foot shark circle under his board

Sighting comes as salmon sharks gather in unusual numbers off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Surfer Andrew Paulich, 40, was in the water at Wickaninnish Beach in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on July 10 when he saw a large, about four-metre, shark.

“I was out there for a long time, and then, all of a sudden, I looked down and I saw the overview profile of a very big shark,” Paulich told the Westerly News.

He said he had paddled way out in front of parking lot ‘B’.

“It had that profile of a shark. From the body, you know the tip of the nose, the sort of wider profile towards the middle of the waist and then gets narrower at the tail. And then, you could see the fins off the side. And I could tell there was a dorsal fin up the middle. You could just tell that it was a shark. You could tell that it wasn’t a whale,” he said.

Paulich, who took up surfing about a year ago after spending most of his twenties and thirties freestyle skiing in the Canadian Rockies, said the shark was resting beneath him, tranquilly.

But then the shark made a pass at him, Paulich recounts.

“It disappeared and then came around diagonally behind me. It came up and did a swoop and then it pulled away like a fighter plane. I saw the grey on its side and I saw the white belly. And then, he or she pulled away and I didn’t see it again,” he said. “I was so calm through all of it. I didn’t want to incite a panic. I kept surfing.”

Emily Beeson, marine biologist at the Ucluelet Aquarium, said the surfer likely saw a salmon shark.

“We have a good working relationship with some of the fishermen and ice-packing facilities. We have noticed that they have been catching more salmon sharks recently. For whatever reason, there does seem to be quite a few salmon sharks around,” said Beeson.

Most recently, on July 23, the Alberni Valley News reported that scientists and students aboard an Oceans Network Canada expedition to explore pacific seamounts off the west coast of Vancouver Island had a rare sighting of a two-metre male salmon shark.

READ ARTICLE: Salmon shark treats scientists to ‘surprising’ behaviour off B.C. coast

Beeson said salmon sharks are sometimes mistaken for great whites.

“They have very similar colouring and their dorsal fins are really similar,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t rule out the July 10 sighting off Wick Beach as being a great white.

“Generally speaking, great white sharks do not like transient killer whales and they try to stay out of their range. Transient killer whales are their main predator. There have been studies showing that a tagged great white shark, if it enters an area where there are known orcas around, or if there is an attack on a shark, all other tagged great white sharks go south. That being said, it’s [widely reported] that the killer whale populations aren’t doing really well,” Beeson said.

RELATED: DFO declares Swiftsure and LaPerouse Banks critical habitats for killer whales (Dec. 30, 2018)

Parks Canada officials say there are over a dozen species of sharks swimming in B.C. waters, including common species like dogfish shark and endangered populations like basking shark.

There have been rare occurrences of a great white being caught off the Pacific Coast, including in waters near the marine area of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, according to Parks Canada.

Louis Rouleau, float plane pilot and owner of West Coast Wild Adventures, was hired by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in September 2011 to help with a blue shark survey.

“I’ll be damned. We did see sharks. We probably saw half-a-dozen. They were probably blue sharks. I couldn’t tell the difference,” said Rouleau.

There have never been any shark attacks within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, states Parks Canada.

If you think you see a shark while surfing, avoid erratic movements and splashing and remain calm because sharks can sense fear. Get out of the ocean and save the surf for another day.

To report a live marine mammal, shark, or sea turtle contact the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network: 1-866-I SAW ONE (472-9663).


Float plane pilot Louis Rouleau snapped this photo of a blue shark while assisting Fisheries and Oceans Canada with a shark survey in 2011. Rouleau said this shark was seen about 30 miles offshore on an incredibly calm day.



nora.omalley@westerlynews.ca

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READ: Off Canada’s East Coast, a hunt to detect ‘beautiful’ great white sharks (July 21, 2019)

VIDEO: Ex-Canuck Willie Mitchell spots rare salmon shark off Tofino (Oct. 12, 2017)

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