Many cruise travelers enjoy feeling connected to the ocean when they set sail, but one family sailing aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Ovation of the Seas got more connected than they ever could have imagined when they helped rescue a beached basking shark in Napier, New Zealand.

The cruise guests, local police, and other beach walkers successfully helped refloat the juvenile shark, a protected species rarely seen in the region.

On Wednesday, November 29, 2023, guests from Ovation of the Seas were enjoying a walk on Marine Parade beach in Napier when they noticed a beached shark – a juvenile basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) – in distress.

According to the New Zealand Herald, Karen O’Connor and her family came across the struggling shark and quickly called the police for assistance with the animal.

“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.”

Police officers and other beachgoers quickly jumped into action, helping dig the shark out and gently tugging it back into the water until it floated free of the sand and could swim away in the outgoing tide.

The incident occurred at roughly 10 a.m. Ovation of the Seas had docked at 8:30 a.m. that morning, and O’Connor’s family was enjoying a stroll on Marine Parade beach, just one mile (2.2 km) south of the cruise terminal, close to the National Aquarium of New Zealand.

The 168,666-gross-ton, Quantum-class Ovation of the Seas was sailing a 10-night New Zealand cruise roundtrip from Sydney, Australia at the time. Napier is one of the last calls on the itinerary, though the ship skipped Wellington the day before due to poor weather in the area. The ship is due to return to Sydney on Sunday, December 3.

Many cruise lines and their passengers take great steps to protect marine wildlife, and cruise lines are dedicated to carbon neutrality by 2050 in order to safeguard all the environments they visit.

Cruise guests can contribute to environmental and wildlife protection efforts in different ways. Occasionally, shore tours may be offered that include conservation activities, such as beach cleanups or planting vegetation to minimize beach erosion.

Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas (Photo Credit: sma1050)

Some cruise lines also partner with local environmental initiatives to help endangered species, such as Princess Cruises’ efforts to protect two endangered penguin species in New Zealand.

Similarly, Celebrity Cruises has joined a voluntary program to operate at slower speeds during whale migration, helping protect the huge mammals from accidental strikes and excessive noise, and MSC Cruises is taking special steps to train deck officers to protect wildlife and minimize strikes with whales.

The basking shark is the second-largest living shark and fish in the world (after the massive whale shark). While an adult can measure up to 28 feet (8.5 meters) in length and may weigh as much as 10,300 pounds (4,654 kilograms), the beached shark in Napier was a juvenile at roughly 10-13 feet long (3-4 meters).

Basking Shark (Photo Credit: Simon Burt)

While these slow-moving sharks are widespread through both northern and southern oceans, they are not aggressive and are considered harmless to humans, eating primarily plankton, invertebrates, and very small fish.

Due to direct fishing and by-catch in trawling nets, the basking shark is considered either threatened or endangered by different conservation organizations worldwide.

Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of O’Connor, her family, and others on the beach at the right time, one young basking shark will have a better opportunity to maximize its 50-year lifespan and keep its population thriving.

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