By the time rescuers found a young great white shark washed up on Chatham’s South Beach Monday, the animal was struggling to breathe. It took some urgent work with a rope tied around the shark’s body to help get it back into the safety of deep water.
Though great whites like this 7½-foot male are relatively common along Cape Cod in the summer, they seldom end up on the beach. The encounter was a rare chance for beachgoers to see the predator up close — and for conservation advocates to put their efforts on display.
Chatham harbormaster Stuart Smith was initially called to help around 1:30 p.m. When he arrived, he saw 30 to 40 bystanders, with several people pouring buckets of water on the shark’s body to keep him breathing. The people looked like “a bucket brigade putting out a fire,” Smith said.
“Twenty, 25 years ago, they wouldn’t be exactly helping the shark. They’d be harming the shark. But now every single person on that beach was trying to assist it,” he said. “The people on the beach made the difference.”
Smith worked with his colleagues to tow the shark into the water with a patrol boat, submerging the animal’s body, but holding the tail to keep it steady. Smith also called in Greg Skomal, a biologist from the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries, who arrived about an hour later.
“When we got there, we . . . decided to tow the shark out into deeper water and try to resuscitate it and release it,” said Skomal, who worked with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and the Chatham harbormaster on the rescue. “It was still breathing, so it was worth giving it a try before assuming it was dead.”
Using the rope to support the shark, the rescuers guided it about a mile out into deeper water, where it regained some strength. The operation concluded around 5 p.m.
Skomal said the bystanders on the beach were “very supportive” in the initial efforts to save the shark’s life. The conservancy posted a video on its Facebook page, published by YouTube user Mike Bartel, showing parts of the rescue.
“When that shark started swimming, they saw it and started clapping on the shoreline,” Skomal said.
Skomal also placed an acoustic tag on the shark, enabling researchers to track its movements sporadically as long as it remains near the Cape.
Watch video of the shark rescue: