Jim Mansfield thought he'd hooked bottom as he fished for cod off Newfoundland – until his handline yanked back, and hard.
"Oh my God," he said of his "up close and personal" encounter early Saturday with the sharp-toothed maw of a two-metre porbeagle shark.
"Did it ever fight. I'd get it up probably six or eight feet with a really hard, hard struggle and then it would just tear the line right back through my hands again and go back down."
Mansfield was fishing off New Melbourne in Trinity Bay with his buddy Glenn Rideout when he hooked the shark in tough skin at the side of its mouth. A few great tugs from below led to a 20-minute skirmish as the two men worked to free it. They were in a small, open fishing boat with a motor. Their unexpected visitor had clamped on to an unbaited single red hook.
"He was a fat shark," Mansfield said Tuesday with a laugh. "You could see the belly on it was really huge.
"It was a big, big, big fish."
The men and another man in a nearby boat managed to take a few pictures before they pulled the hook free and the shark swam off, unbloodied.
"We never really had time to be scared," Mansfield said. "I've often wondered what it would be like to catch one, you know? I've heard tell of people often seeing them out there."
Porbeagles are related to larger great whites and can reach up to about four metres in length and 135 kilograms. The Nature Canada website describes them as curious creatures and opportunistic hunters who will chase hooked fish as they're drawn to the surface.
"No porbeagle has ever been incriminated in unprovoked attacks on humans – probably because it lives in such cold water – but as a relative of the mako and great white sharks it is among the fastest swimmers in the sea," it says.
Almost as excited as Mansfield was marine biologist Carolyn Miri of Fisheries and Oceans Canada in St. John's.
She said the department doesn't have funding for a delegated inshore survey and is asking anyone who sees or hooks sharks to contact her at the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre. Federal researchers have been satellite tagging sharks in the area since 2013 to help fill data gaps.
Mansfield said the porbeagle he caught appeared to have a tracker.
He and Rideout did everything right to release the accidental catch as quickly and humanely as possible, Miri said in an interview.
"He never tried to bring it aboard. And that's the best thing. People should never try to bring a shark onboard their boat. As well, they should not try to immobilize it in the water beside their boat because that also increases the stress level of the animal."
Porbeagles arrive off Newfoundland at this time of year, followed by blue sharks when the water temperature warms above 10 C, Miri said. Harmless but massive basking sharks, which are filter feeders, can grow 10 metres in length and may also appear.
And then there's Lydia. She's a great white shark with her own Twitter account and a dorsal fin satellite tracker that recently indicated she's somewhere off the Bahamas. She is billed as the first great white ever recorded to cross the Atlantic. She has also repeatedly traced a pattern from the southeastern U.S. up to the waters off southern Newfoundland before heading out into open sea.
Researchers with the non-profit group Ocearch share details of her movements on social media as Lydia offers scientists first-ever details about how the apex predators live, travel and cope with myriad threats. It's hoped that information will ultimately guide conservation efforts to protect great whites as a crucial part of ocean ecosystems.
As for Mansfield and his friend, he said they finished their time on the water Saturday with a successful cod catch – five "nice fish" each.