Two quick-thinking men on Newfoundland's northeast coast managed to save a Greenland shark from choking to death on a large piece of moose hide this past weekend.
Derrick Chaulk said he was driving down a road by the harbour in Norris Arm North this past Saturday when he saw what he thought was a beached whale.
When Chaulk went closer to investigate, he realized it was a shark, which he estimated was about 2.5 metres long, and weighed about 115 kg.
The animal was still alive and had a large chunk of moose hide protruding from its mouth.
"It [the moose] had the fur and all the liner on it — it was about two feet long, maybe."
Two-part rescue effort
Chaulk said another local man, Jeremy Ball, arrived on the scene and starting pulling on the moose chunk.
"A couple yanks and it just came right out."
The two men then set about getting the shark back in the water.
Ball tied a rope around the shark's tail, and Chaulk got ready to push.
"He pulled the rope, and I pushed with my boot," said Chaulk, "and between the two of us we got him out into deeper water."
Chaulk said the shark lay in about 30 cm of water for a few minutes.
"Then all of a sudden, the water started coming out of his gills and he started breathing,"
Greenland sharks are rarely seen on the northeast coast of Newfoundland. It is a lumbering bottom dweller that spends most of its long life blinded from parasites feeding on its corneas.
They are scavengers, and they feed on food found in shallow water. While their diet is usually fish, they have been found in other jurisdictions to have eaten animals that found their way to the water, from polar bears to reindeer.
The creature goes long periods without food, so when it comes across even a discarded carcass, such as a moose, it will gorge itself to near suffocation.
Chaulk said people clean and gut moose on a nearby bank of land and throw the scraps of the butchered animals into the harbour.
Chaulk speculated that the shark bit off more than he could chew.
"He swallowed and got it halfway down and couldn't cough it back up and couldn't get it all down, and then I think the tide brought him in."
Shark may have been OK, says scientist
A scientist said the shark may not have been in as much danger as the two men thought.
Jeffrey Gallant, the president and lead scientist at the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group, said the beached shark may have just been enjoying a large meal.
Gallant added that Chaulk and Ball did the right thing, although he would not have yanked out the moose bits.
"When you're man-handling a shark like this and trying to get it back in the water, the fact that its mouth was otherwise pre-occupied by chewing on the meat, you reduce the risk yourself of getting bit accidentally."
Chaulk said after the shark started breathing again, the animal lay in the shallow water for about 30 minutes, then headed out to sea.
'It was a good feeling to see that shark swim out, knowing that you saved his life.' - Derrick Chaulk
"There was a few people up on the bank watching and once that shark swam out and lifted his tail, and then swam all the way out, everybody just clapped," said Chaulk.
"It was a good feeling to see that shark swim out, knowing that you saved his life."