Jesse Bone of Filter Studios captured this image of a salmon shark while fishing for tuna with Willie Mitchell off Tofino.

VIDEO: Ex-Canuck Willie Mitchell spots rare salmon shark off Tofino

‘Fishing and eating tuna is marvellous. But it’s what you see out there.’

Tuna may taste delicious, but hunting for it is the real treat.

A group of Tofino fishers, including former NHL star Willie Mitchell, recently experienced a rare salmon shark sighting.

Mitchell told the Westerly News that the crew was roughly 120 kilometres offshore, cruising around the Clayoquot Canyon.

“We were just doing some rad stuff offshore, exploring and trying to find some tuna,” he said. “We saw a big fin and got on top of it. We thought it was about an eight-foot white shark at first and then kind of settled down after the ‘Oh my, that is a monster.”

Tofino nature photographer Jeremy Koreski was fishing with Mitchell and said it was the first time he’d ever seen a salmon shark.

“When we first pulled up to it, we just thought it was a blue shark. When you’re tuna fishing, you see blue sharks all day,” he said. “Then we got closer and a lot of us thought it was a great white…Looking down on it from the top, it looked like a great white and we were all kind of freaking out because we were swimming around in the water earlier.”

He added it wasn’t until Jesse Bone of Filter Studios put a camera in the water that the crew realized it was a salmon shark.

Mitchell was thrilled that the animal stuck around for a while, allowing the crew to watch it.

“Fortunately enough for us, it was just kind of cruising around and doing it’s thing and wasn’t too spooked so we got a couple of good looks at it,” Mitchell said.

Along with the shark, Mitchell said the crew spotted white-sided dolphins, false killer whales, humpback whales and even a sei whale, the third largest species of whale on the planet.

“That’s what we go out there for. To see rad stuff,” Mitchell said. “If we get a tuna, or two, that’s certainly a bonus. That’s dinner,” he said. “Fishing and eating tuna is marvellous, but it’s what you see out there…Fishing is more the vehicle for the adventure.”

He said tuna lures fishers into the blue water around Clayoquot Canyon.

“They skirt that line because there’s so much life in the water. They jump in there and feed and gorge themselves, so that’s where we go,” he said. “It’s a completely different ecosystem…It’s an hour out there and, because of the upwelling of the shelf, you just start to have an abundance of life from humpback whales to white- sided dolphins to mola mola sunfish, blue sharks, salmon sharks; it just comes alive.”

Koreski said the canyon’s vibrant setting is a paradise for photographers.

“You get out to that canyon and that drop off and all the upwelling brings the wildlife in and you see a lot of really interesting stuff,” Koreski said. “It’s fantastic out there.”

Mitchell, who recently launched a local fishing derby to raise funds for salmon restoration efforts, added the West Coast’s abundant wildlife “puts life into perspective.”

“All of us play on the west side of Vancouver Island and all the beaches here are our playgrounds. Being a local and just knowing that we are certainly small creatures in the grand scheme of things, certainly we want to respect the ocean and respect what’s in it,” he said. “

“It’s just an invigorating experience to be here and have all those noises and life and everything just kind of fill your soul and that’s what it’s really about. That’s what I love about being here…The energy just fills the tank. It’s one of the marvellous spots on the planet where you have this big, mountainous backdrop on one side and beautiful Clayoquot Sound where you can explore on so many different capacities.”

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