Just in time for Shark Week, an annual celebration devoted to shark conservation and popularized by Discovery Channel, UBC climate change expert and Q-quatics Boart of Trustees Vice Chair Dr. Wiliam Cheung made a jaw-dropping revelation, that great white sharks are about to make a splash off British Columbia waters! According to Dr. Cheung and his team, climate change is making the water down south too hot for sharks to live in, driving them to pack up and move up north. Rare sightings today could become regular occurrences tomorrow due to rising ocean temperatures.
Dr. Cheung is an Associate Professor at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries (IOF) at UBC, and the Director of Science of the Nippon Foundation-UBC Nereus Program. His main research areas include understanding the responses and vulnerabilities of marine ecosystems and fisheries to global change, and examining trade-offs in managing and conserving living marine resources. His works cut across multiple disciplines, from oceanography to ecology, economics and social sciences, and range from local to global scales. To date, he has published over 150 peer-reviewed publications, including papers in leading international journals.
More details on when and why new sharks such as the great white are expected to be swimming in B.C. waters were disclosed by Dr. Cheung in a recent “Q & A” with IOF:
Is it possible we might one day see great white sharks in our local waters? Or are they already here?
With oceans warming, we do expect to see more tropical sharks in temperate waters. Based on my team’s computer simulation modelling, we found that climate change will cause an expansion of the range of great white shark to northern temperature areas, including the offshore waters of the northeast Pacific, which includes B.C.
If you look at the coast of California, it is expected that the types of species we see there could be in B.C. waters if we maintain at the status quo and do not mitigate carbon emissions. Species in California include the oceanic whitetip shark, and the great white shark. In the Atlantic, we would expect to see great whites along the coast of Newfoundland. Currently, they have been recorded, but sightings are rare.
What’s a realistic timeline for their arrival?
Such an expansion in range will be seen more and more frequently in the coming few decades. Ocean temperature in the Pacific fluctuates, with some years warmer than others. During the warmer years, sightings of warm-water sharks, like great whites, increase. As the oceans warm, we expect to see sightings of these sharks more and more often.
What shark species are found in B.C. waters already?
Fourteen shark species are listed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in B.C. waters, with the six most common species being salmon shark, blue shark, Pacific sleeper shark, brown cat shark, spiny dogfish and tope (soupfin) shark.
What species are we at most risk of losing due to rising ocean temperatures?
The numbers of many shark species are going to shrink in the available habitat for them, particularly the tropical sharks. Eventually, tropical waters will simply be too hot for the sharks to live in.
See also: “Climate change jaw dropper: Great white shark could one day prowl B.C. waters” by IOF (UBC)