A quartet of scuba divers on Vancouver Island were in for the plunge of a lifetime when coming across a shark in the depths of the Alberni Inlet.
In late May, Matteo Endrizzi and Garrett Clement got video of the encounter, calling it “incredibly rare” footage that even underwater filmmakers searching for the fish have difficulty capturing on camera.
Divemaster Endrizzi and environmental technologist Clement, both from Nanaimo, joined fellow divers Connor McTavish and Danton West when they spotted the bluntnose sixgill shark swimming in pirate movie-like atmosphere.
“We went up to do a dive trip. A change of scenery, different dive sights,” said Endrizzi. “We did a dive in the morning, and then we decided to do a deeper dive on a shipwreck that was there. We went down about 100 feet.”
That’s when Clement says one of the divers, “the guy with the least amount of experience,” started signalling that he saw something unusual.
“I go over, and he gives me the classic signal for shark,” said Clement in an interview with CHEK News.
“I remember looking at him and going, ‘Really?’ We go over, and there’s nothing there, but he’s looking around like a madman. We don’t see anything. We can’t really talk when we’re scuba diving, so we just continue on our dive.”
Ten minutes later, their underwater dive in waters near Port Alberni turned into one they’ll never forget — one they’ve summed up as a big thrill.
“We just went along the side of the shipwreck. We were just looking down, and all of a sudden, someone’s light beam caught an outline of a shark swimming along the bottom of the shipwreck,” recalled Clement.
While Endrizzi was excited by the sight, he’s most grateful he had his camera in hand to capture video proof of what they saw before their eyes.
“Usually, these sharks live in deep, deep water at 2,500 metres,” he said.
“It’s a deep-water shark, and no one knows why they come to the shallows. There are a lot of theories, but no one really knows.
“Garrett was pretty much right on the bottom at 80 feet, and I was a few feet higher, so we got different angles of video. I’m from above, and Garrett was down below. It’s nice to have both perspectives.”
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When spotting a shark, other divers may be urged to ‘dip’ or swim away to safety as quickly as possible, but this group had done its research.
“It’s a pretty docile shark,” said Endrizzi. “When we saw it, we knew exactly what it was. I think we were all a little bit excited, and I say that as an understatement. We all felt very lucky to witness what we did.”
According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the sixgill shark, or Hexanchus griseus, can grow up to 4.8 metres long and has two rows of teeth.
“The shark that we saw was a juvenile, but they can be quite big animals. The coast of B.C. is one of the only places in the world where divers can actually see these sharks,” said Endrizzi.
He says the group reached out to the DFO to notify them of the encounter, which in turn was “very grateful” to receive the information considering such sightings are seldom.
“If anyone does come across one, it’s a rare occurrence, and I definitely encourage them to reach out to DFO so that data can be recorded and we can get more information on these really cool creatures,” said Endrizzi.
The DFO has more information about sharks on its website, including ongoing research from the Canadian Pacific Shark Research Lab.
“I mean, they live at the bottom of the ocean, and it’s so hard to get any sort of data on them,” added Clement. “It’s on every diver’s bucket list to be able to see one of these things in the wild, but the reality is you could go on thousands and thousands of dives and never see one.”
-with files from CHEK’s Roger Collins