Tactics used by research team to lure sharks worry scientists and surfers

Ocearch has been throwing bait into Nova Scotia waters in search of great white sharks. But that's causing concern among South Shore residents who say they're drawing the creatures way too close to busy recreational beaches.

DFO tells Ocearch to move away from coastal areas frequented by recreational users

A 13-foot great white shark was found off the coast of Nova Scotia on Sept. 29, not far from a popular beach. (R.Snow/Ocearch/Canadian Press)

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. 

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.

Ocearch researchers are tagging sharks and share their data with the public online. Ocerch is currently on an expedition off our coast and some people on the South Shore are concerned about how they're catching the sharks. 9:20

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. 

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.

Jefferson Muise, a surfer who lives near Hirtles Beach, says it's a busy time of year to be in the ocean because it's at its warmest. (Reuters)

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.

MacNeil initially told CBC News Ocearch has been banned from some recreational areas, including in Massachusetts, but he later corrected his statement to say that's not true.

Robert Hueter, the chief science adviser for Ocearch, said the group has "never been banned from any area."

Hueter also said that Ocearch has never encountered questions over chumming near recreational beaches "except for questions like we're getting now in Nova Scotia, which are fair questions."

He said the chumming hasn't been happening as close to shore as some people might think. Still, out of respect for people with concerns, Hueter said Ocearch has halted chumming activities in Nova Scotia.

'At the margins scientifically'

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 so close to shore, "because you don't want to be changing the behaviour of the animals at all."

Read more articles from CBC Nova Scotia 

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning