Alan Holyoak went to Seaside, Oregon for his niece’s wedding, but never expected that he’d come back a hero.
Holyoak has a background in marine biology and teaches at Brigham Young University. Returning from his morning walk, he and his wife saw a person staring at an object lying just where the waves break on the beach.
“I couldn’t tell what it was from a distance,” Holyoak said. “It was pretty big. I didn’t know if it was a juvenile dolphin or what. So we walked over and it was about a 4-foot shark in the water. It was just being rolled around in the waves.”
Holyoak identified the shark as a salmon shark — which, he said, people commonly mistake for a great white shark.
“If you look at photographs that show under the chin, [the shark] has kind of a rust-colored patch,” Holyoak said. “That rust-colored patch is usually indicative of low oxygen. It was basically asphyxiating.”
Holyoak pulled the shark onto the beach and, when he saw that the shark exhibited faint signs of life, he quickly placed the shark’s head in the water, where the waves were washing over his gills, to give him some much-needed oxygen. His wife, Kathrine, took photos as he worked.
The shark still remained mostly lifeless. It wasn’t until Holyoak brought the shark back onto the beach again that the animal showed more signs of movement, so Holyoak took the shark back out to sea, this time into deeper waters.
That was when the shark found the strength to swim off at last.
“I really felt a sense of satisfaction being able to help out,” Holyoak said. “It was really great … [but] it’s not the sort of thing you do casually. Even a small shark can have a nasty bite.”
“Nature’s not Disneyland,” he added. “But I knew if something wasn’t done, it was definitely going to die. It was obviously in distress.”
Holyoak said beachings of juvenile salmon sharks aren’t common, but they’re not unusual on the Oregon coast. “Most of the time when people see them on the beach, they’ve already died,” he said.
Thankfully, he was able to get to this shark before it was too late.
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