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Chumming water to attract sharks worries surfers, scientists

CBC News

Friday, October 5, 2018, 12:51 PM - A research team that's throwing bait into Nova Scotia waters in search of great white sharks is worrying some South Shore residents who say they're drawing the creatures way too close to busy recreational beaches.

Ocearch, a team of U.S. and Canadian researchers, has been in Nova Scotia since mid-September as it tries to learn more about the migratory patterns of the elusive sharks.

So far, they've tagged three male sharks, including Hal, caught not far from popular Hirtles Beach, near Lunenburg, N.S., last week.

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In order to lure sharks to the boat, Ocearch dumps blood and guts, also known as chum, into the water. It also drops baited lines.

Aaron MacNeil, an associate professor at Dalhousie University, told CBC Radio's Information Morning he's looked at where the sharks have been captured and "was blown away [by] how close they were to public beaches."

"It just should not be anywhere near public recreation areas, and that's very disappointing to see," said MacNeil, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Fisheries Ecology.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said while it doesn't believe Ocearch's work will change shark behaviour, it's asked researchers to move away from coastal areas with recreational users.

MacNeil spoke at a meeting in Lunenburg County on Thursday, and said he heard many concerns, especially among surfers who've seen the boat chumming nearby.

(RELATED: Three things to know about shark attacks)

Jefferson Muise, a surfer who lives near Hirtles Beach, said he's seen the boat stationed about a quarter mile off the western end of the beach for the past week.

He said his friend was snorkeling off West Ironbound Island recently when he was approached by members of the Ocearch team.

"[They] warned them that's not a good idea, we're actively chumming the waters here, and you should probably get out of the water," Muise said.


Concerns about chumming by Ocearch aren't unique to Nova Scotia.

MacNeil said the organization has run up against opposition around the world, including in Massachusetts, South Africa, Florida and northern California, where it's been told not to return.

In 2012, a week after Ocearch was chumming in an area off South Africa, a bodyboarder was killed by a great white shark.

Beginning in 2015, Massachusetts's marine fisheries division sent a series of letters to the organization denying their application to tag in Nantucket waters.

MacNeil said he spoke with officials in Massachusetts this week.

"One of the reasons that they were banned from Massachusetts is that they were doing chumming and doing baited activities very close to the beach where people were recreating, and they were interfering with ongoing tagging operations that happen there," he said.


MacNeil said he accepts Ocearch's mission to bring greater awareness to great white sharks. Hilton, the celebrity shark has become a well-loved Twitter personality, with more than 46,000 followers.

But he has a lot of questions about how the organization operates, calling what Ocearch does "sort of at the margins scientifically."

He said while chumming is often done during fishing derbies about 30 kilometres off the coast, the standard is to never to put biological material in the water, "because you don't want to be changing the behaviour of the animals at all."

CBC News made repeated attempts to contact someone from Ocearch for comment but is still awaiting a reply.

This article was originally published on CBC.ca.


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