Great white sharks have one of the most fearsome reputations in the ocean. From a young age, we’re taught to stay clear of these powerful creatures at all costs. However, when one young shark washed up on a Massachusetts beach, kind strangers ignored everything they’d ever heard to simply help an animal in need.
July 13, 2015, started out much like every other day in Chatham, Massachusetts. The seaside town’s many beaches were ready to welcome the usual hoards of beachgoers. It was a lovely summer day, and the sun was shining across Cape Cod.
However, at some point that day, an unexpected visitor joined the beach’s two-legged day-trippers. After some commotion out at sea, a young great white shark became stranded on the shore. The majestic animal beached itself while trying to catch seagulls.
Great white sharks are often spotted off Cape Cod’s coastline. They favor the peninsula due to its abundance of grey seals. And on the rare occasion when a shark comes ashore, the public are advised to contact the local harbormaster.
Harrowing footage from this scene showed the beautiful beast washed up onto the sand. There, it writhed around in a small pool of water, desperately trying to return to the sea. Before long, a large group of well-meaning onlookers had gathered around the shark.
Mike Bartel was among the stunned sunbathers on the beach at Old Southway that day. Moreover, as the incident unfolded, Bartel decided to film everything on his phone. And what he captured was truly inspirational.
Bartel’s camera rolled as the harbormaster and a group of strangers on the beach banded together to save the great white. First, they threw buckets of water on the shark to ensure he didn’t dry out. They also aimed the liquid at the animal’s gills to help him breath.
And, while many people might have given the often-feared creature a wide berth, these beachgoers volunteered to help. “We were really concerned with keeping it alive so we asked if we could take some buckets, like children’s sand buckets, to keep it wet and he allowed this,” Isabelle Hegland told the Cape Cod Times in 2015.
Still, although the pails of water temporarily aided the shark, there was no escaping the fact that his situation was urgent. Bartel’s footage clearly shows the animal’s belly turning red. According to experts, this may have been due to capillaries bursting under the weight of the shark’s body.
So it was vital that the shark got the help it needed as soon as possible. Thankfully, a team from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC) and Dr. Greg Skomal, from Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, soon arrived at the beach. Furthermore, they worked alongside Chatham harbormaster Stuart Smith to set the shark free.
First, they tied a piece of rope around the young shark’s dorsal fin. Then, one man ensured it was secure before tying the other end to the back of an awaiting boat. And once that was done, a second man began to slowly pull the monstrous fish back out to sea.
Meanwhile, the group of onlookers stood by as rescuers dragged the animal across the golden sand. Then, after them reaching the water, there were an agonizing few moments when he didn’t move. It seemed that the rescuers were too late to save the stranded shark.
But, having come so far, the team refused to give up on the great white just yet. And, after a few firm prods from Skomal, the animal appeared to regain consciousness. Seizing the moment, the rescue team took the opportunity to transport the shark out to open water.
Reflecting on what had just taken place on the beach, Bartel later revealed that he was impressed with the kindness of the beachgoers. “It was great to see that when there was an animal in distress – it didn’t matter if it’s perceived as the most monstrous in the sea – people wanted to protect it,” he told the Cape Cod Times.
Meanwhile, Skomal and his team of experts ferried the 7-foot shark a mile offshore. Although they could see that the animal’s mouth was moving, though, they were still unconvinced that the animal would swim away. However, when the shark began to move its tail, they knew he had a fighting shot at surviving.
And, with that, the shark began to swim off into the ocean, although the care for the creature continued. The rescue team followed him for a few hours to make sure he was safe. Fortunately, the shark took to the sea in the manner everyone expected: like a fish to water.
But that wasn’t the last they heard of the shark. Before releasing the animal, research teams fitted him with an acoustic tag. From then on the fish was known as Jamison, and Skomal and his team would follow his progress.
Accordingly, shark experts were encouraged a month later when they received news that Jamison was doing well. Acoustic receivers picked up the shark’s tag about three miles away from his release site. “It’s very encouraging that the shark was alive,” Skomal told Live Science. “If I had to guess, if it survived for a couple days, it’s going to survive [in the long term].”
Indeed, a year later the AWSC had another exciting update on Jamison. “We are incredibly excited to announce that the rescued white shark ‘Jamison’ has returned to Cape Cod,” read an update on the organization’s Facebook page in 2016. “He was detected on a receiver off Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge on June 29, 2016.”
In fact, many of the other sharks Skomal has tagged in the past have also returned to the cape each year. So perhaps Jamison’s second visit to the site marks the start of a long tradition for him. If 2016 is anything to go by, the shark will continue to consider Cape Cod a great place to visit.