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Six Gill Sharks - Tahsis, BC, Canada

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Well-Known Member
Jun 19, 2002
Tahsis is a haven for spotting six gill sharks... or so the scuba divers tell me. For those who are not aware, six gill sharks grow over 16 feet long and look like... a shark! At the end of the inlet where Tahsis lies, happens to also be a gathering place for six gills. They are seen every day by scuba divers who jump off our government warf. That is correct, in only 30-80 feet of water in town, the six gills frequent divers especially if the divers make a little noise. My friends host an annual scuba charter/adventure from Tahsis and offer 2 day trips out to some of the most beautiful diving there is and offer unlimited six gill dives... because the divers can walk out of the lodge and jump in, day or night with them.

So far I have been unfortunate to always be away during prime season and those times when I have been here, conditions were not very helpful. Such as red-tide filling the inlet, lots of work, and probably not least of all, a lurking fear of being alone and coming face to face with a six gill. Needless to say my attempts to spot one had all be half hearted even though my desire has been exploding with anticipation for some time.

On October 15, 2003, I decided to go for a dive in memory of my dear Grandfather who passed away on this day. It was almost 5:00pm, therefore it was not reasonable to go anywhere extraordinary or preferable. I decided not to bring the camera as a sign of my complete attention for what we would share as opposed to going there with a focus of my own. I also decided to go to the fairly barren location near the entrance to Tahsis. I geared up once I was there and jumped in the water. It was high tide and there seemed to be only a slight current. I took a line and float with weight so I could pull up if I needed or desired.

The sun just set behind the mountains as I stepped timidly into the water. My first dive in the shallows took me to the muddy bottom at around 14m and that which my eyes witnessed I could barely believe. The visibility was unheard of. Here at the end of an inlet and the meeting of river outflow there was horizontal visibility of 50-60feet. I have never witnessed this in Canada at such a shallow depth. Let alone the best in this location I had ever seen prior was maybe 15-20feet. It felt as though I was in a different world. I could see the whole landscape around me and fish more than 20 feet away already trying to get away from my gaze. I just could not believe this.

Returning to the surface I continued to work my way out deeper and dropped my line down to 15meters. It ran into the bottom so I pushed out the float further. I was heading in the general direction of an area I remembered which drops off steeply and has some rock walls around 20-30meters. I did another dive to check if I was free from the bottom. Things were fine and the visibility was wonderful. Although at 18m it was beginning to get darker and the sun was going down steadily.

I pushed the line a little further out and prepared for a good dive. Down I drifted until I hit the weights on the line. I stopped myself there and had a sense to stay there and inspect the surroundings. The bottom was about 10m below me. I hung there for a few seconds and wondered what I was going to see. An image of something like a seal came to mind, but immediately my mind recalled how I had not seen a single seal yet at the surface. So I threw that idea out and immediately large fish entered my mind. I realized my mind must be just working in anticipation of things I have seen.

I let go of the line and drifted to the bottom. As I neared the muddy slopes and not seeing any walls of rock around me, I decided to search for a sign of which way to go. I began turning around scanning the landscape for something of interest. Eventually I finished my search and not detecting anything telling, I turned to head in the general direction of down the inlet and a little deeper.

I could see something just below me in front that looked like another log resting on the bottom. I had probably skimmed over it as I was scanning the environment. For some reason I stayed fixed looking at it. A few moments later I see it moving. It is moving towards me but slightly off and as I let myself sink down towards it. It then begins turning and as slow as I am sinking, it heads down the slope towards the deeper waters. At that moment I have no option to doubt or wonder as the profile of an 8 foot long six gill shark sweeps by. I am about 6 feet above it and it does not seem to change its action for my presence. I feel like it does not sense me yet; this coming from the lack of response and the idea that I almost fell on top of the thing.

It gradually turns away from me, heading in the same direction as I. I first begin a few kicks to keep up with its slow glide and then just watch in amazement. I gaze at its tail and sleek body. After seeing the eyes down the length of its body a couple times, I begin to wonder whether it has seen me now. Swimming a little faster, I try to pull up beside the massive creature. However, as I make some headway, the shark turns back the other way to keep heading away from me. I decide to swim slightly away from it at an angle so I can then come back perpendicular to it at it's side.

I come at it from the side and get a great profile view of the animal. It is short lived as it continues down deeper and away from me. Within that time I look at the overhang of its snout and something hanging out of its mouth. I get another good look at its exaggeratingly long tail and up I go watching it disappear into the dark.

I reach the surface and am speechless for a while, living in my mind, replaying the memory of the encounter. After a while of pure appreciation I let out a huge cheer. This has been the first time I have seen a six gill shark. I had first gained the extreme interest to see one more than a year ago and only the day before had determined I would have to wait until next year for the chance to see one. They have a seasonal window of opportunity when they appear in the shallows like this and it is generally thought that by this time they have left for the deep. I had never heard of one being spotted on this side of the inlet and really had not imagined they would be spotted there.

I let the feeling sink in for a while as I floated there and just looked around me. I looked at the beauty around me and felt the wonder of exploring this life. I ran the experience through my mind again and began laughing out load. It echoed across the inlet to return the laughter back to me.

Tyler, great story. I'm happy you saw your fish! Someday I'd love to see a shark.... I think!

Thanks for sharing your experience.

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed your encounter. Most of mine are more apprehensive, wondering if it is going to tax my fish and harrass me or if will just leave. I remember the first shark I saw. I was horrified at first but later thought about just how beautiful of acreature it really is. The glide through the water with such ease and grace almost like they are flying. Good dive and cool story.

I often tell friends/acquaintances about what I see under water and how wonderfully beautiful it is. It is amazing how often I get responses of pure bewilderment that such creatures and life could actually be easily witnessed as "beautiful". When I told people about seeing dogfish they thought of it as a despicable thing. I feel sorry for that, but I can understand that a "fish-out-of-water" is no pretty thing indeed. Even though a fisherman will call a salmon a "beauty", they generally are not referring to the creatures beauty, but their perception of how hearty a catch that is to serve up on a plate.

But I wish they could witness the beauty we get to appreciate and witness in its full magnificence. The way they move and interact with the other life. The curiosity they demonstrate so openly. The confidence with which they mix with other life. The natural camouflages and strategies. The colors and textures. The flowing grace of them all!

However, I can not get enough of it so maybe there would not be enough left over if everybody experienced it ;)

Thanks guys for the response.

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