Technology & Science

Quebec shark researcher seeks help

Volunteer scientists studying huge sharks in the St. Lawrence River say they need the public's help to move and equip a donated research vessel.

Volunteer scientists studying large sharks in the St. Lawrence River are seeking help from the public.

Their research on the little-known Greenland shark, funded by their own money and private donations rather than government grants, just got a boost in the form of a donated boat.

The problem is that they have no way to get the boat from Rouses Point, N.Y., to a shipyard in Les Méchins, Que., where it will be refitted for scientific work in the river.

The group is seeking donations to pay for a transport company to move the 4.6-metre-high boat with a special trailer so it will fit under highway underpasses. The researchers hope to have the boat ready in time for the 2011 research season.

"We're at the point where we need a boat," said Jeffrey Gallant, a college teacher in Drummondville, Que. As founder of the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Research and Education Group, he has been studying the sharks for about 10 years.

Among largest sharks

Greenland sharks grow to be about three or four metres long on average, with a mass that can exceed a tonne — about the size of an adult female beluga whale.

They are believed to be the second largest carnivorous sharks, after the great white shark, and some scientists think some Greenland sharks may exceed the great white in size. The two largest shark species, the whale shark and the basking shark, are filter feeders.

Gallant said not much is known about Greenland sharks because they live mostly in Arctic waters, away from human activity. The exceptions are the Greenland sharks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the St. Lawrence River estuary and the Saguenay River, which have unfortunate encounters with fishermen because they like to eat halibut.

"The fishermen are hauling up their lines for the halibut, and they're pulling up these sharks," Gallant said. "The sharks are either dead or end up being killed because they damage the fishing gear, and also a dead shark's not going to go after your fish or your gear again."

The boat will be used to help implant electronic tags under the skin of some Greenland sharks to learn more about their habits — the temperatures and depths they prefer and the amount of light in their environment, for instance. The group has already acquired about $30,000 worth of telemetry tags and receivers.

Until now, the research group has been using inflatable boats and charters of large boats that typically cost $1,200 to $1,500 per day.

Tagging the sharks would require them to be restrained alongside the boat, and the shark's tooth-like scales would damage an inflatable boat under those conditions, Gallant said.

Fortunately, the group recently received a donation of a 10-metre-long, steel-hull boat from Lou Jankowski, a Montreal doctor specializing in hyperbaric medicine. Verrault Navigation, based in Les Méchins, has offered to refit the boat by reworking the engine, extending the cabin and installing a compressor to fill scuba tanks.

That will allow it to accommodate four people overnight and store all their research gear so they no longer have to return to the dock each night.

Corrections

  • We initially reported that Greenland sharks are in the St. Lawrence Seaway. In fact, they are in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the St. Lawrence River estuary and the Saguenay River.
    Aug 28, 2010 6:53 PM ET

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