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Welcome to the great whites north

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From head to tail fin, Maeva Giraudo noticed that the shark’s wet body was smooth and firm like leather. She could feel the animal’s size and strength. Rubbed the other way, however, the fish felt surprisingly rough, like sandpaper. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and she was meeting Luna off the shore of Lunenburg, N.S., the town that inspired the great white’s name.

Giraudo, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, has always admired sharks. She considers them the lions of the sea. For years, she has followed the work of Ocearch, a non-profit organization known for tagging and tracking the movements of these apex predators and giving them Twitter profiles, some of which have thousands of followers. When she learned the group’s team of scientists and fishermen was planning an expedition to Nova Scotia, she knew she had to be there.

For a few days in October, Giraudo took an unpaid holiday to jump aboard the MV Ocearch, a former crabbing vessel now used to catch and release sharks. Luna was reeled in by a small fishing boat known as the Contender, which uses a baited, non-harmful circle hook to catch sharks and guide them toward the Ocearch vessel, where a platform submerged under the sea hoists them out of the North Atlantic Ocean. A wet towel was immediately thrown over Luna’s eyes, while a hose pumped salt water into her mouth and gills. Then a crew of scientists and researchers went to work.

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Luna was impressive. She measured nearly five metres long and 950 kg, one of the largest Ocearch has ever found. “I can’t believe how beautiful they are,” Giraudo says. Canadian waters along the country’s east coast may not be known for an abundance of sharks, but it appears to be a favourite destination for some like Luna. Ocearch followed the tracks of Hilton, a great white shark caught in 2017 near Hilton Head Island, S.C., who had been spending time in Nova Scotia. The sharks each have a tag on their dorsal fin that sends a location each time it pokes above the surface.

“We speculated that something was happening in Nova Scotia, perhaps mating,” says Bob Hueter, Ocearch’s chief science adviser. “It would be a critical piece of the puzzle.” The world knows little, after all, about great white sharks. Canada deems them “at risk,” yet there’s no estimate of population size in the country’s waters. “They spend most of their time hidden from us,” Hueter says. But the work being done here will help to begin filling in the blanks. And in the coming months, scientists expect to get a much clearer picture about what great whites are doing in Canadians waters.

Ocearch arrived in Nova Scotia hopeful they would find at least one shark. Over three weeks, the group caught and tagged seven. “It was beyond our wildest expectations,” says Chris Fischer, the founder and expedition leader of Ocearch. Fischer was the star of reality television shows like Shark Men and Shark Wranglers before shifting his attention to ocean conservation. This reality—along with Ocearch’s social media presence and a website that shows where their sharks are in real time—has drawn criticism from some in the scientific community.

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Hueter, a shark researcher of more than 40 years, says the time for “waiting for that [research] paper to appear on a bookshelf in a dusty library is dead and gone.” He notes that scientists who work with Ocearch must agree to publish their results within two years. “We feel the clock ticking,” he says, adding that their goal remains the same as that of traditional researchers: undo the damage done to the oceans and help rebuild shark populations.

After a shark is caught, a handful of scientists step onto the platform to take blood, muscle and genetic samples—tests that reveal the animal’s reproductive hormones, stress levels, contaminants and diet. They measure length and girth, and attach acoustic and satellite tags. They perform ultrasound tests on females. Then, after no more than 15 minutes, the shark is set free. “It’s like watching a pit crew during a car race,” says Hueter.

The samples from the Nova Scotia expedition were taken for 15 research projects for 19 different institutions. Hueter ranks the trip as one of the most gratifying of his career, noting that Ocearch plans to return next year.

Giraudo thought she was just there to observe, but quickly found herself taking samples. Out of the great whites Ocearch tagged, Luna is the only one still in Nova Scotia; the others have headed for warmer waters. Luna was poking around the Bay of Fundy at the time of writing. Giraudo checks up on her regularly and guesses she’s enjoying the seals. “Luna’s a big fish,” she says. “Maybe she just likes it over there.” Will Luna be back next year? The scientists, and the great white’s 2,500 followers, will be watching.

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City committee votes to name Sandy Hill Park after Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook

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OTTAWA — Ottawa city councillors have voted to rename a Sandy Hill park after celebrated Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook.

The community and protective services committee approved a recommendation to rename the park at 240 Somerset Street East the “Annie Pootoogook Park.”

Pootoogook was an award-winning artist who lived in Ottawa. She died in 2016 at the age of 47 when she fell into the Rideau River. Ottawa police investigated her death, but it was ruled non-suspicious.

Stephanie Plante submitted an application to the city to commemorate Pootoogook by renaming the park after her.

Plante says she met with Veldon Coburn, the adoptive father of Pootoogook’s eight-year-old daughter, and reached out to Pootoogook’s brother in Nunavut to discuss the idea.

“Women matter, the arts matter, and most importantly Inuit people matter,” Plante told the committee.

“As of today, it’s quite possible an entirely new generation will write Annie Pootoogook Park on birthday party invitations, t-ball sign ups, dog park meet ups, soccer registration forms, summer camp locations.”

Alexandra Badzak, director of the Ottawa Art Gallery, told the community and protective services committee the arts community supports honouring Pootoogook.

“Those of us in the arts in Ottawa, across Canada and internationally know of the importance of Annie Pootoogook’s work,” said Badzak. “Who’s pen and pencil crayon drawings drew upon the legacy of her famous artistic family.”

The head of the National Gallery of Canada said Pootoogook’s artistic legacy is remembered across Canada.

“There’s absolutely no question that Annie Pootoogook is deserving of having Sandy Hill Park named in her honour,” Sasha Suda told the committee Thursday morning.

“She was an unbelievably bright light. Despite the briefness of her career, she leaves an incredibly strong legacy through her art work and in the ways that she changed the art world.”

Coun. Mathieu Fleury told the committee plans are in the works to set up an exhibit space in the Sandy Hill Community Centre to highlight Pootoogook’s work. The city is also working to set up programming for Inuit and artists in the park.

Council will vote on the proposal next week.

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City aces legal dispute over Kanata golf club

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An Ontario court judge has upheld a 40-year-old agreement that says the Kanata Lakes Golf and Country Club must remain open space and not be redeveloped into a housing community.

The decision is a big win for the city, Kanata North Coun. Jenna Sudds and her constituents, who have spent two years trying to prevent property owner ClubLink from turning the course into a 1,500-home development with its partners Minto Communities and Richcraft Homes.

Sudds, who said she burst into tears over Friday’s decision, called it “terrific news” for the community. As many as 500 homes back onto the course and more than 1,000 households use the grounds for recreation, she said.

“The green space, the golf course itself, which really is right in the middle of our community here, is used by the community quite frequently,” said Sudds, who recently moved the neighbourhood. “I see people out all hours of the day throughout the winter. It’s amazing to see all the tracks snowshoeing and skiing and dog-walking.”

40-year-old agreement ‘valid’

ClubLink, which bought the 50-year-old course in 1997, announced in December 2018 that it planned to redevelop part of the property.

Local residents, along with the newly elected councillor and the city’s own legal department, argued that the development shouldn’t go ahead due to a 1981 legal agreement between then City of Kanata and the developer. That agreement called for 40 per cent of the area in Kanata Lakes to be open space in perpetuity.

“The 1981 Agreement continues to be a valid and binding contract,” Ontario Superior Court Justice Marc Labrosse wrote in his 44-page decision.

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Ottawa residents remain pro-Trump Avenue

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It appears Donald Trump still has a home in Canada’s capital, even if he has departed Washington, D.C.

Earlier this year, residents on Trump Avenue, in Ottawa’s Central Park neighbourhood, put the possibility of changing the name of their street to a vote following the former president’s tumultuous time in office.

The neighbourhood has several streets named after icons of New York City and Trump was a famous real estate mogul before he was elected.

In order to change the name of a street, the city requires 50 per cent plus one of all households on that street to be in favour.

There are 62 houses on Trump Avenue, meaning at least 32 households would have had to vote to change the name.

The city councillor for the area, Riley Brockington, said Wednesday that 42 households voted and the neighbourhood was divided, 21 to 21. 

Without the required margin to enact the change, Brockington says the matter will not proceed any further. 

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