Researchers intrigued by remains of pregnant sixgill shark on B.C. beach

Researchers intrigued by remains of pregnant sixgill shark on B.C. beach
Researchers intrigued by remains of pregnant sixgill shark on B.C. beach

Researchers say the carcass of a large, bluntnose sixgill shark that washed onto a Vancouver Island beach north of Victoria earlier this week is a great reminder that there are about 12 species of sharks in British Columbia’s coastal waters.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada research scientist Jackie King says the creature, sometimes known as a cow shark, was female and roughly four-metres long.

It was pregnant and King says it was carrying several young, called pups, when it died, likely of natural causes.

The pups also died and King says a necropsy on the remains of the adult is underway.

Bluntnose sixgill sharks are deep divers, cruising the continental shelf and submerging up to 2,500 metres but King says the B.C. coast is one of the few areas in the world where the species takes advantage of the deep but protected waters of the Georgia Strait to give birth.

She says the bluntnose sixgill is fairly common off B.C., but because it likes deep water it’s rarely seen as it hunts prey that include another type of shark — the spiny dogfish, as well as most types of fish, squid and crabs.

“I like to joke that they are sharks, so they can eat anything they want to,” says King, quickly adding that because they prefer cold ocean depths the species is usually lethargic and unaggressive.

“Yes, they have teeth, it’s a large animal, but other than that it is nothing really to be feared,” she says.

There is no sign the shark was killed by entanglement, hit by a boat or attacked by some other animal, so King says the discovery could offer a rare glimpse into the lives of these little seen creatures.

“Opportunities like this highlight to the public that our ecosystem is comprised of a whole number of different creatures, one of them being these top predators, or sharks,” she says.

The curious gathered on the rocky beach of Coles Bay, in the Saanich Inlet Wednesday for a glimpse of the remains of the shark, with its comb-like, yellow lower teeth, single dorsal fin, and very long tail.

Sidney resident Nicole Wilford called the sight both fascinating and sad.

“You know why it’s here and what it died from is kind of sad. But to be able to see it is pretty cool,” she says.

King says results of the necropsy could be available as early as Friday.


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