At first, John Kapakatoak thought he caught a whale in his seal nets.
"I see the tail, and I thought it was a beluga," said Kapakatoak, who's been hunting and trapping since retiring. He was out trapping near his cabin Monday morning about 40 kilometres north of his community of Kugluktuk, Nunavut.
But when he pulled his seal nets up out of the water, Kapakatoak was in for a pleasant surprise.
"I looked at it, I said, "Oh it's not a beluga, that's a shark,' because I looked at the head, teeth and eyeballs," said Kapakatoak. "That's the first time I've seen a shark, but I see them on the TV."
He estimates the shark measured about 1.85 metres. Once back home, he said it was quite the spectacle for his community of about 1,500 people.
"When I got my boat out of the water ... [I] couldn't see my boat. People [were] all around it taking pictures," he said, adding it took hours before people were done taking pictures.
"It's the first time I guess the whole town seeing a shark in real [life]," he said. "Must have been just about the whole town that come to see it."
He said a wildlife officer came and took some samples of the shark for testing. He said he will keep the shark's head as a souvenir.
'It's a novelty,' says marine biologist
"I'm surprised, of course. This is outside the usual range of the species," said Boris Worm, professor of marine biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Greenland sharks — "the only true Arctic shark" — live in the Canadian Arctic, but they swim in deep waters so aren't typically seen, according to Worm.
Possibly it's something that will occur more often in the future. - Boris Worm, Dalhousie University professor
Because of its pointy nose, jaw, and colouration, the shark found near Kugluktuk is likely a salmon shark, said Worm who viewed several photos of the animal. Worm noted it could also potentially be a porbeagle shark — "but the way its fins are positioned, it looks more to be a salmon shark," he said.
Salmon sharks are typically found around Alaska and B.C., said Worm. They are fish eaters.
"There's not very many sharks that can survive in those cold waters," explained Worm. "Some sharks ... have learned to at least gradually warm their blood a little bit, and so they're able to push into more northern waters."
He suspects this shark is a "lone straggler" who was either curious or ventured a bit too far and got lost.
"This shark is in very northern waters," he said, adding that finding a shark near Kugluktuk may be related to regional warming of northern waters.
"That whole ecosystem is changing because of the very, very rapid warming in the Canadian Arctic," said Worm.
"We see a lot of species pushing further north ... Salmon are going that way [toward the Beaufort Sea] and the salmon shark, possibly just following the salmon, also does."
Worm said he's glad people in Kugluktuk are taking pictures and sharing information on surprising sightings like this, so it can be recorded and studied.
"I haven't heard of this before — salmon sharks in that area. It's a novelty, but possibly it's something that will occur more often in the future," said Worm.