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.”

Sixgill shark, Vancouver Aquarium

Close up of the six gills that define the sixgill shark. Photo credit: Lee Newman.

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.

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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.

 

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6 Responses

  1. Peter Mieras

    Stoked!! Nicky the six gill shark at Diplock reef in Barkley Sound is still around. The 4th sighting between August 9th and Sept 11th. Consistent area of viewing and very recognizable. No pics or video but the divers’ description of scars on the body and dorsal fin together with the nick out of the dorsal fin make for a positive ID… site fidelity??

    Reply
  2. Peter Mieras

    Hi Grace, Like most sharks Bluntnose six gill sharks ( Hexanchus griseus) have the potential to bite. BUT I have been diving with six gill sharks every year for the last 10 years for our research. I have had close encounters with them and their size varied between 2ft and 14 foot. I have never been aggressively approached. There are certain rules that you need to respect such as don’t corner the shark, don’t touch it etc. Realize that we are not common food for any species and with our average size of 5.5-6ft we look big for many animals underwater. Please do not believe the programs that suggest that if you are swimming in the ocean and a shark is around it will attack. These sharks are more scavengers than hunters so I think you are quit safe from them. Have a look at our Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/sixgillsharks?ref=hl )

    Reply
    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thanks Peter for sharing! Grace, as Peter states, like all wild animals we need to respect their space and view them from a safe distance. The same is true for sea otters, seals, sharks and all marine life. While the media would often have you believe that shark attacks are a common event, you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being attacked by a shark. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  3. Peter Mieras

    For 4 years now we have conducted surveys for six gill sharks here in Barkley Sound and we share our findings with many researchers. We also assemble all shark sightings from Washington state to Alaska. If you see a six gill, alive, dead, catch it while fishing, please report it. You can download a sighting form at: http://www.rendezvousdiving.com/sharkworksheet.pdf

    For fishermen there is a protocol how to handle a shark you caught. Available through DFO

    For an questions you can contact us at : info@rendezvousdiving.com and like our six gill shark Facebook page at : https://www.facebook.com/sixgillsharks?ref=hl

    Reply

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