The beached shark - a rare juvenile basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) measuring roughly 3 to 4 metres in length - swam back into the water to elated cheers just after 10am.
The Department of Conservation had been made aware of the incident, which took place just a few minutes’ walk from the Napier Aquarium, however, they weren’t needed in the end after a large group heaved the shark into the outgoing tide.
It was a wild introduction to Napier for Karen O’Connor and her family, who had just departed the recently docked cruise ship Ovation of the Seas when they came across the struggling giant.
A leisurely walk across the shoreline soon turned to action, when the family called the police to see if they could assist.
“When we first got here, he [the shark] was just lying there and you could see he was trying so hard to breathe,” O’Connor said.
“We just kept trying to pull him out and dig him out. We got him out a bit but didn’t have the strength to keep pulling.”
Soon enough, it was many hands making light work as the public and police rushed to help.
“It was everybody’s hands together,” local Lawrence Taia said.
“There were tons of people coming, and then the police just jumped in with their uniform. It was awesome.”
The heroic police officers at the scene gave their names as K’an, Gemma, and Andrea.
“These guys here from Sydney called the police and we were nearby, so just came down to check it out,” Gemma said.
“You could tell they wouldn’t be able to do it on their own because it was pretty heavy, so we just jumped in and helped.”
K’an said it was a sense of immediacy and human instinct that got them in the water.
“You can spend your time talking about it and waiting for the right people to come and do it, but really you’ve just got to get in there and do it.
“Definitely better work stories,” Gemma laughed.
Clinton Duffy, technical adviser – marine (protected fishes and marine reptiles) for the Department of Conservation, said it was a “very rare record” of seeing a juvenile basking shark on our shores.
He said the last confirmed sighting of a live basking shark in coastal waters was in Tory Channel in 2012.
“The species used to be very common in coastal waters around parts of the South Island during late spring and early summer but largely disappeared in the mid-late 1990s.”
Male basking sharks were said to mature around 7 metres and females between 7.7-8.2 metres, with a maximum length of 12.2 metres.
“This is the second largest species of fish after the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) – also found in NZ waters, also a protected species,” Duffy said.
He praised the rescuers for helping to get the basking back in the water.
“Great to see people getting together to rescue this animal.”
Mitchell Hageman joined Hawke’s Bay Today in late January. From his Napier base, he writes regularly on social issues, arts and culture, and the community. He has a particular love for stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.