Nova Scotia

How a photographer is providing a rare glimpse into Canada's ocean wonders

A Fredericton-based photojournalist is travelling around Atlantic Canada, documenting the spectacular sea life off the coast in an effort bring attention to the perils facing ocean health.

The federal government has promised to protect 10 per cent of Canada's coastal waters by 2020

In 2014, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans estimated 8,000 blue sharks are caught as bycatch in Canadian waters every year. (Nick Hawkins)

A Fredericton-based photojournalist is travelling around Atlantic Canada, documenting the spectacular sea life off the coast in an effort bring attention to the perils facing ocean health.

Nick Hawkins is a conservation photographer whose work has been published around the world. 

"He is all about bringing photography and storytelling together to tell that conservation narrative and to give people those images to say, you know, what we have is special and we need to make sure that we're protecting it and managing it for sustainable use," said Shannon Arnold, marine policy co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.

Blue sharks are easily recognized by their slender, sleek, bright blue bodies and large pectoral fins. (Nick Hawkins)

The federal government has promised to protect 10 per cent of Canada's coastal waters by 2020. The EAC and other members of the non-governmental organization Sea Blue Canada plan to hold the government to its word.

Arnold said blue sharks are the number one shark caught as bycatch in Canada's commercial fisheries. (Nick Hawkins)

Recently Hawkins slipped into the water, on behalf of the EAC, about 20 kilometres east of Halifax to get a close-up look at the blue shark — one of the most bountiful and beautiful sharks in Canadian waters.

"It was absolutely incredible. They have the most amazing blue colouration on their body and these beautiful swimming movements. It was a really special experience for me," he told CBC's Maritime Noon

The large, flat, peculiar-looking ocean sunfish can weigh as much as 1,000 kilograms and is the largest boney fish in the world. (Nick Hawkins)

Blue sharks are easily recognized by their slender, sleek, bright blue bodies and large pectoral fins. They often reach nearly four metres in length. They're found in temperate waters in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

Arnold said blue sharks are the No. 1 shark caught as bycatch in Canada's commercial fisheries — especially in the longline swordfishing industry.  

Ocean sunfish spend much of their life in the dark part of the ocean below 200 metres, but they are often seen basking at the surface where they are sometimes mistaken for sharks. (Nick Hawkins)

In 2014, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans estimated 8,000 blue sharks are caught as bycatch in Canadian waters every year.

Arnold said of sharks caught as bycatch, about 30 per cent die after they're released. 

"Most of them are put back. Some of them are alive some of them are dead but way more sharks than swordfish are caught in that fishery," said Arnold. 

The sleek, bright blue sharks are just a few of the incredible creatures Arnold is hoping to show the public with this project.  

"It's hard to connect with what's under the water," said Arnold. 

"Most people never really get to see what's just under the waves and there's some gorgeous, gorgeous stuff under there, you know, beautiful corals and seagrass beds and kelp. You've got seals and you've got sharks and you've got all sorts of amazing fish in the intertidal zone." 

Blue sharks are found in temperate waters in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. (Nick Hawkins)

As for Hawkins, he said he felt relatively at ease during the three or four hours he spent swimming with and photographing blue sharks — after getting to know them a bit.

"Once we were in there it was just amazing how curious the animals are," he said. 

"At first it may have been a bit intimidating when they come right at you to kind of check you out, but once you were in the water with them for 20 or 30 minutes you realized how gentle, curious and intelligent they are."

Hawkins said he felt relatively at ease during the three or four hours he spent swimming with and photographing blue sharks. (Nick Hawkins)

He credits the knowledge of Capt. Art Gaetan of Blue Shark charters for that.

"It's really important when you're in the water with sharks in general is just to remain very, very calm and confident," Hawkins said.

With files from Maritime Noon