A group out hunting for tuna off the coast of Vancouver Island instead found themselves just metres away from an intimidatingly large shark. 

The group, which included former NHLer and Vancouver Canuck Willie Mitchell, went fishing about 120 kilometres off the coast of Tofino earlier this week.

Mitchell, who co-owns Tofino's marina, said they were having a great day of tuna fishing when a large shark fin appeared above the waves.

"All of a sudden I just saw a big fin," he said. "We lowered down to have a look and the first thing we said was 'Oh my god, it's a white, it's a big white.'"

A member of the group stuck a waterproof GoPro camera under the water to get a closer look and Mitchell, an experienced angler, realized it was a eight to nine-foot-long salmon shark.

"They look so much alike," he said. "That was a large, large salmon shark. You look at a salmon shark next to a white, and they're almost identical."

According to experts, while great white sharks are occasionally in the media for attacks on surfers, a salmon shark is primarily looking to gobble up its namesake – Pacific salmon.

They're a member of the same family as great whites and can grow as big as three metres long, but generally shy away from mammals.

"Pacific salmon sharks can be quite timid," said Ruby Banwait, a senior biologist with the Vancouver Aquarium. "It is a rare, wonderful experience to actually have a chance to see one and video one."


While the sharks are common in the waters off B.C.'s coast, glimpsing them is rare considering they've been found as far as 680 metres down before.

Banwait said the fact that this one was seen in our waters is a good sign for the ecosystem.

"Seeing any shark is good sign they're keeping the environment safe and healthy," she said. "They prey upon animals that are injured or sick so things like that, they help to keep populations really healthy."

Still, the shark's mistaken identity was slightly alarming at first for Mitchell, who had gone for a dip in the same water that day.

"What goes through my mind is when I jumped in the water and swam out there. There's lots lurking and you become pretty small in the world's oceans," he said. "You're in their domain so you've just got to respect it."

Experts have said that climate change could push sharks more commonly seen in southern waters further north, including great whites.

The fearsome predators are most commonly found off the coasts of California and Australia but warming waters could send more of them to the northeast Pacific, a UBC researcher told CTV Vancouver in July.

As many as 13 other species of sharks have been documented in B.C. waters.

With files from CTV Vancouver