On July 30, Howe Sound Research Program coordinator Jessica Schultz was underwater conducting a transect to assess the ecological impacts of sea star wasting syndrome when, just after completing her final transect, colleague Laurel Trebilco swam over to her and wrote on her slate, “6 GILL!!!” She had just seen a sixgill shark at the other end of the transect line. They proceeded to roll up the transect tape, looking out into deep water the whole time with the hopes of seeing it again. As they came to the end of the transect tape, the eight foot shark reappeared just where Laurel had seen it earlier. The shark investigated them, circling slowly around them several times. Jessica reports “I was so excited I could hardly get my camera out in time, but managed one shot before it calmly faded off into the green.”
Tropical Waters curator Lee Newman also recently saw a sixgill shark while diving at nearby Whytecliff Park in West Vancouver. Lee was at “the cut” his maximum depth at 80 feet, when he turned to the north and saw the sixgill’s head just a couple of feet from him. It was six to seven feet long and it went upward to about 60 feet and disappeared. He managed to get a face shot that shows an identifying mark on the right side of its head. A third sighting of a sixgill shark was made by submarine pilot Jeff Heaton of Nuytco Research when he recently sighted a sixgill shark at a depth of 650 feet north of Hutt Island in the middle of Howe Sound.
With the flurry of recent sightings, it is tempting to speculate that the recent return of herring abundance, together with higher densities of Pollock and hake has attracted residency by sixgill sharks, much as it likely did for whitesided dolphins in 2012.
Sixgill sharks can reach 11 feet for males and 16 feet for females. Younger sixgills eat fish and squid, whereas adults will eat seals; one of the reasons they often reside at Hornby Island near the seal pupping grounds on Flora Islet. Hornby Island has long been a diver destination for Sixgills, including more recently Barkley Sound and Tahsis in Nootka Sound. Perhaps a new part of the diving experience in Howe Sound will now include sixgill sharks.
Have you recently seen a sixgill shark? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Visit our sixgill sighting page to let us know where you spotted one.