Great White Sharks in Tofino? Yes and No.

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    This mako shark was caught on Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in 2005 - not in Ucluelet BC as you might have heard.

There’s been some confusion over the years whether or not a great white shark was caught off Ucluelet in 2005. Specifically, it’s this image, of what appears to be a large great white, dead and hoisted on the wharf. Over the years this image has been linked to rumours of a great white caught in Ucluelet, South Africa, Australia and other spots you’d typically link with great white sharks.

Like any good yarn, it just refuses to go away. You’ll see it here, mentioned in 2007, and again last year on Facebook (Search for Great White Shark Ucluelet in May 2015) and the same image pops up yet again with another story of how it was caught ‘just this week off Vancouver Island’.

The truth of the picture is a little more mundane – and sadder – than the reports you’ve heard. The shark is actually a very large mako shark, caught off Yarmouth Nova Scotia in a fishing derby back in 2004, and the picture taken by local reporter Carla Allen, who sold rights to the picture after she took it.

The image took a life of its own after Allen sold her right to it. To this day, Google ‘Great White shark Tofino, Ucluelet or Vancouver Island’ and the image pops up – despite that it was actually taken on the other side of Canada. Read Allen’s book, Shark on the Line for the full story of the image and the shark who died to have it taken.

So Are There Great White Sharks in Tofino?

Well here’s the thing. The great white shark in this picture is a mako, and on the other side of Canada…BUT…great white sharks have been documented off Tofino before. There’s photographic evidence of two great whites in these parts – both juveniles, at the BC Shark Reports blog, between 2005 and 2008.

Photo taken by Wendy Szaniszlo, 2008.

Photo taken by Wendy Szaniszlo, 2008.

The first is an image of a dead porpoise with white shark bites that washed up on McKenzie beach taken by local park ranger Tanya Dowdall, and verified as being done by a juvenile great white shark by the ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research.

The second image shows a stellar sea lion, also with white shark bites, in Barkley Sound and confirmed by renowned shark expert Ralph Collier, who you’ve probably seen on Shark Week over the years.

Great Whites Are VERY Rare Off BC

Now before you get all Chief Brody circa 1975 on us, don’t panic. Great white sharks are exceptionally rare off BC. According to the BC Sharks blog, there were just 14 confirmed sightings of Whitey of the Pacific Coast of Canada between 1961 and 2004, though there were 8 unconfirmed sightings of great whites off western Vancouver Island between 2000 and 2010.

Most were by surfers and fishermen.

Bear in mind that it would be fairly easy to confuse a great white with a salmon shark, which belong to the same family, and look fairly similar. Salmon sharks, unlike great whites, are fairly common off Vancouver Island.

And beyond that, our population of orcas might further dissuade great white sharks from taking residence in BC waters.

Still, they’ve been here before. I’d put your chances of seeing a great white shark off Tofino at pretty close to zero, but several dead white sharks have washed up on the Queen Charlottes (now Haida Gwaii), and a Department of Fisheries report suggests our white friends may visit Graham Island more often than we think.

The Sharks of BC

With all this in mind, BC is actually quite rich in shark species. We’ve got dogfish, obviously, but also blue sharks, threshers, pacific sleeper sharks and others – 14 shark species have been documented off British Columbia, including the:

Blue Shark – The classic ‘shark’ with dorsal fin and sleek shape. Several years ago, researchers found a hot spot of blue sharks in BC – again, off the Queen Charlottes.

Salmon shark on Chesterman Beach, near Tofino.

Salmon shark on Chesterman Beach, near Tofino.

Salmon Shark – This little guy looks like a mini great white and is quite common off Vancouver Island.

Pacific Sleeper Shark – Researchers think the Pacific Sleeper Shark may actually be related to the Greenland Shark of Eastern Canada. It’s a large, slow-moving shark that tends to live in deeper waters. Lousy for them, they’re a favorite prey for killer whales in British Columbia.

Basking Shark – The second biggest fish on the planet (after the whale shark) is a true gentle giant, characterized by its huge gaping mouth and slow-moving behaviour. We used to get basking sharks by the hundreds off BC, but a government eradication program from the 1940s to early 70s decimated those numbers.

Great White Shark – You know why you’re here, and the answer is yes, great white sharks have been seen off BC. They’re very rare here though, and if you really want to see a great white shark in Canada, you’ve got a better chance of seeing one off Sable Island in Nova Scotia.

I’ll close this post with a short documentary by Discovery Channel Canada on the sharks of Tofino. It’s not so much about great white sharks off Tofino, per se, but instead talks about interactions between sharks, surfers and the folks of the area. Yes, we’ve got sharks in Tofino and off Vancouver Island people. You’ve got a slim chance of seeing one, but they’re out there, maintaining balance in the marine ecosystem of the BC coast.

*Editor’s Note* August 14, 2013 – A lot of back and forth on whether it’s a mako or great white shark. What do YOU think? Share your opinion in this poll

 

By | 2018-04-18T01:18:49+00:00 March 25th, 2011|Shark Diving, Surfing, Swimming|21 Comments

About the Author:

Steve Hutchings is an extreme sports blogger and adventure traveller with too much time on his hands. He loves shark diving and EDM/trance music. Also, he checks the stock market every 15 minutes.

21 Comments

  1. Mike August 1, 2011 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    A quick glance at the teeth and the coloring shows that this is a Mako.

    • admin August 2, 2011 at 7:02 am - Reply

      Hi Mike,

      If you look a little further into the post you’ll note that I’ve clarified this is a Mako shark

  2. suzanne March 9, 2013 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    Wow are they really capable of that size ?? It’s amazing!

  3. SharkKnowItAll March 13, 2013 at 5:25 pm - Reply

    It’s to over sized to be a mako shark mako’s tend to only grow up to 9 feet in length tops. It’s not about the teeth that identify it’s also size of the specimen that has been caught and other characteristics this shark is well over 10 foot in this case so it’s most definite great white shark.

  4. Kimberley July 24, 2013 at 10:01 am - Reply

    Here is a link to a current Canadian sighting of a Great White….This Economy NS 35km away from Parrsboro where I am living. I lived in BC for 15 years until a year ago and my son is heading back there later this summer and planning to surf Tofino. I wish they would go back where they came from sharks are scarry.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/story/2011/08/16/ns-great-white-shark.html

  5. Suzanne July 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    Great Whites do not have the teeth the shark in this picture has, It has to be a Mako. As classified by I suspect a shark expert as noted in the post. Makos have teeth like this and the snout is squared at the top. A Great White would not have a snout like this.
    I love sharks. I believe they are misunderstood, underappreciated and feared through medias portrayal of a much needed predator in our eco system. The oceans will be a messy bacterial place without them and our eco system would adjust and create another predator that may be even more scary then sharks. I wish people would think and educate themselves instead of continually living in fear.

  6. Courtney August 8, 2013 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    It’s actually spelt Maco not mako. At least spell it right 🙂

  7. Dave August 10, 2013 at 6:06 am - Reply

    Maco sharks are very cool , I have watched them in person in action off the stern of a tuna boat in between New Zealand and Tahiti ,,they used to follow the boat and wait for tuna to hit the lines…. Really cool.. I commercial fished off my home ,, vanover island have seen lots of sharks ,, thrasher sharks are very common and blue sharks , sun fish..,.. But never seen the white shark,, herd lots of stories by the natives ,,, but rare!!

    • admin August 10, 2013 at 1:40 pm - Reply

      Very cool Dave. Yeah I’ve heard there are thresher sharks off Vancouver Island and blues as well. I should probably point out that Mako sharks are indeed spelled ‘mako shark’ – not maco shark. Check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shortfin_mako_shark

  8. leeanne August 13, 2013 at 8:39 pm - Reply

    This is def not a mako shark. The teeth of the mako shark are closely together with slight curve and thin n sharp. The nose is thinner longer. So guessing a gwhite

  9. […] still more fuel to a debate that started in 2005 regarding this image of a large shark, supposedly caught off Ucluelet BC on Vancouver Island, recent visitors to the site are trading opinions on whether it’s a great white or a mako. On […]

  10. Jim November 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    Looks like a Great White to me.

  11. Douglas Fawcett December 7, 2013 at 10:44 am - Reply

    Sharks are amazing animals but they still scare the sh*t out of me. I personally hate swimming in the ocean.. Call me a wimp but I only like swimming in water where I have a good view of whats beneath me. The ocean is their territory and I respect that haha.

  12. Tom March 17, 2014 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    Clearly its a Mako. People are seeing the size and assume its a White shark because typically Mako sharks don’t grow that big. However, this is nature we’re talking about here. think about the giant squid and octopus we only recently discovered. Is it really that far fetched to think a Mako could get this big? not at all. The color of this shark is a dead give away. Great White Sharks don’t have that shiny silver-ish tint down the side. They are a more solid dark grey all the way around (except the white under belly) for better camouflage when stalking they’re prey from below. I for one think its disgusting that they killed this beautiful creature, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

    • admin March 18, 2014 at 6:16 am - Reply

      Agree, agree and completely agree. This is a mako and it’s disgusting they killed this shark. The ocean needs them. The boat was called the Dawn Raider. The full story is here

  13. dave June 28, 2014 at 2:28 am - Reply

    That s for sure great white.yes very rare in our waters but that ain t no maco.rookie.

  14. karen newman August 3, 2014 at 8:55 pm - Reply

    Sorry to burst your denial bubble but Great Whites come in close to shore on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Especially areas with seal aggegation, sandy bottoms, cool water, river outflows in genral areas etc. L8ng beach has a few witnessed every year in as little as 6 feet of water.
    Luckily humans aren’t on the menu, seals are mainly, and they have a splendid smorgasbord to keep them occupied. They are a mix of juvenile and adults. Remember juviniels need a rookery close enough to make the trip worthwhile. I imagine they follow food shuttling up the coast line from Oregon where they have many similar adult sightings upwards.
    Why you would assume only juviniels would mysteriously venture here from .??? without adults also following same instinctual paths for abundant food is very funny to me. Just ask around in tofino and uclulet and you will hear several encounters, coastal bc rec mags and online mags have similar accounts going back decades.
    I saw the great white in tofino landed by fishermen about 20 miles off the coast. That was almost 40 years ago and there has only been a few caught since. They really have always been here, they prefer cold water, we just don’t use our coastal beaches open to the pacific enough to interact with them often. Not like the people populate the beaches in the US.
    So no worries, they are there and always have been, curious they are for sure, but happily fed already and frankly not interested in humans as a palatable source of food.
    Often bites are reactionary in murky water areas where rivers, estuaries meet the sea. They sense movement but can’t see what it is… they use thier mouths to explore like we use hands to grope in the dark. They let go quickly and leave if its a humane they have mistakenly bitten.
    But they have those damb teeth that can do damage while mouthing an unknown object..us.
    So be smart, swim surf, board in clear waters when ever possible. Storms kick up the waves but they also kick up the silt too. Another murky water situation
    So smartest thing to have on you is a piece of cordage to tie off area above a bite. This will save your life since its bloodloss not major internal injury that seldom occures, that would kill you. Where it twisted up in to a bracelet. wear 2. Have a waterproof clear cell case attached to you with GPS in it. Have a strobe light also. Never hurts to be prepared.
    More likely to need these for other common injuries at the surf than ever it being caused by a shark so be safe for all the other crap that goes wrong while playing in the waters of the B.C. West Coast.

  15. […] you said Vancouver Island you’d be off by about 8,000 kilometres. You’re on the wrong coast for great white […]

  16. Womblehunter May 11, 2017 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    lol many of you are banging on about the size of that Mako. It’s an obvious case of foreshortening and a trick of perspective photography. Shark is close to camera, guys in back not so much. I’m sure its not that big.

  17. […] on 6 years now, I’ve noticed a few rumours that consistently pop up. The first is that a great white shark was caught in Ucluelet BC in 2005. That didn’t happen, and the second, that there are bull sharks in Lake Ontario or […]

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