Bluntnosed sixgill shark

Photo Credit: Mark Royer/ Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, Univ. of Hawaii

JAWS Near the Island?

Rare juvenile bluntnose six-gill shark almost caught off Nanaimo

Rare shark encounter off Nanaimo

A Nanaimo couple and their infant son were fishing for lingcod last Tuesday near Entrance Island just off Nanaimo when they got the hook of a lifetime, a rare juvenile bluntnose six-gill shark.

Roy Ban told Nanaimo NewsNOW that it took 45 minutes to reel it to the surface. The struggle bent his rod bent into a horseshoe. While fiancé Michelle Smithers looked on, Ban says he caught a glance of it before the shark dove again for another fight.

“Got it back up, the net was right there and realized that thing wasn’t fitting in the net, not a chance,” Ban said.

So, he snipped the line, and they watched it swim away after what he called a “once in a lifetime experience.”

Afterwards, with hearts pumping, they quickly packed up their tackle and headed for shore.

“I said in Jaws, the blonde dies first, so get me out of here,” Smithers recalled.

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Six-gill expert Dr. Chris Harvey-Clark, of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, said the shark is a deep-sea dweller common to the Strait of Georgia, but called the couple’s encounter with a juvenile “exceedingly special.”

“It’s a cannibalistic species, and we think the big guys eat the little guys. So to see a little juvenile, (which is) pretty much any animal under two metres long, is a rarity,” she said in the Nanaimo NewsNOW report.

The shark is an ambush predator that eats almost anything that swims in the ocean, except humans. Harvey-Clark says she has never heard of one attacking a person. The shark, also native to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and the Mediterranean, got its name because it has six gills instead of the more typical five. They have large, glow-in-the-dark eyes and have been observed at depths of up to 10,000 feet.

Little is known about how long they live, although experts compare them to the Greenland shark, which can live between 250 and 450 years.

“This is the swimming equivalent of a 1000-year-old Douglas Fir,” Harvey-Clark said. “You should be respecting that animal for nothing else than the reasons of it likely being very long-lived, slow to reproduce and hard to replace if we do wipe them out.”

Fishers who catch a six-gill should cut the line as close as possible. Don’t try to retrieve the hook, as any damage to the shark’s jaw can impede its ability to eat.