'That's the essence of ice': Frozen shark washes up on Cape Cod beach after polar vortex

A photo of a frozen shark washed up on a Cape Cod beach over the weekend has captured the attention of social media users.

The image was captured by a photographer who paired the photo with a quote about ice and how it locks in real-life happenings.

"Ice contains no future, just the past, sealed away," the photographer wrote. "As if they're alive, everything in the world is sealed up inside, clear and distinct. Ice can preserve all kinds of things that way - cleanly, clearly. That's the essence of ice, the role it plays."

A dead shark was found frozen on a Cape Cod beach amid record cold temperatures in Massachusetts.
A dead shark was found frozen on a Cape Cod beach amid record cold temperatures in Massachusetts.

Some social media users speculated it's a great white shark in the comments. But the photographer said she was told it's a porbeagle shark, typically found in the North Atlantic, southern Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, according to the ocean conservation group Oceana.

Greg Skomal has researched sharks for about 40 years and agreed that it's a porbeagle shark, one of the few species that can withstand such cold water.

"This is one of several sharks that have stranded this this winter," he told USA TODAY Tuesday afternoon.

A dead shark was found frozen on a Cape Cod beach.
A dead shark was found frozen on a Cape Cod beach.

Porbeagles are usually associated with significant drops in temperatures, he said.

John Chisholm, a Massachusetts-based shark researcher, also caught wind of the photo. He tweeted Saturday that it's likely the same shark that washed up days earlier and has been "moving around with the big tides."

He said it's a male and while he tried to measure it, visitors had taken the shark's tail, dorsal fin, pectoral fin and teeth.

How did the shark end up on the beach?

Sharks tend to swim into shallow water when something is wrong; they then die on the beach, Skomal said.

A few weeks ago, a different porbeagle shark was swimming in nearby shallow water. The shark's behavior let researchers know it was "weak and dying" Skomal said.

He said Cape Cod's shape almost looks like an extended arm and it acts like a "natural fish trap."

"Sharks that are weakened or any animals that are weakened will find themselves going close to the shore and ultimately dying on the beach, or dying in the shallows close to the beach," Skomal said.

The most recent shark in the photos was so badly deteriorated that it'd be difficult to determine its cause of death, he said.

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Just how cold was it in Cape Cod this weekend?

Weather was very cold Friday into Saturday, although not cold enough to freeze a shark.

Observers believe the shark was likely already dead before it washed up due to an injury on its side, according to

Still, temperatures were quite low as there was was a polar vortex in the area, or cold air that drops down out of Canada, said Alan Dunham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norton, Massachusetts.

"It just brought the arctic air all the way down from the Hudson Bay down across all of New England," he said. "To go along with that, we had very gusty winds. The low temperatures were in the single digits."

Temperatures in Boston dropped down to 10 degrees below zero, while Cape Cod dropped to 8 degrees below zero Saturday morning, Dunham said.

Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY's NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas, and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email her at

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Shark frozen on Cape Cod beach didn't freeze to death, experts say