Friday, February 3, 2012

The Beached Shark - the part we didn't photograph

Amelia and I are camera demons -- no question.

She has literally hundreds of snapshots in various files on our computers (note plurals) taken from trips around the world.

I, on the other hand, appear to have inherited my father's penchant for taking videos. He shot miles and miles of 16mm film footage as I was growing up. Children's parties, vacations and special events were all subject to his mighty Paillard Bolex; he also shot a lot of stock footage for his KLAHANIE TV show.

Anyway ... one of my favorite vacation photos was taken on Coronado Island, and it's still grist for some great stories, especially among my friends at the BC Electric Railway Company. Can you figure out what I'm doing?

I am painstakingly scotch-taping together my San Diego Transit 3-day pass. We had taken the bus to Coronado and as I sat down, I slipped the pass into my pocket. The still, small voice said, "not a good idea" ... but I shrugged it off. What could go wrong, anyway?

We hit the beach and splashed about happily for about an hour, then decided it was time to stroll along the main drag and go for some kind of frozen coffee thing at one of the cafes. We found one and went in, and as I stood at the counter, I reached into the pocket of my bathing suit. My hand landed on a soggy mass of paper.

Yes, fans, the still, small voice had it right: those were my swimming trunks where I had put my 3-day pass and had left it there while we were swimming.

Admittedly, it was "only" $12, but it was worth a try. We got our drinks and went out to the sidewalk tables and I let the ticket dry. They had some scotch tape at the counter and let me have some. And then began the repair job.

And you know what? The SD bus drivers all accepted it! They could see it was a 3-day pass and the date was still visible.

But that's not the story.

We spent part of our vacation last year (2011) camping along the Washington-Oregon-California coast, taking loads of pictures and videos -- like the one of the whale that wandered up the Klamath River -- and eventually died there.

We also took copious photos of sunsets and beaches and harbors and redwoods and me trying to cook steak over an open fire and Amelia tucking into Smores ... but the one incident we did not photograph was our shark encounter.

We stayed a couple of days in Brookings, OR, and spent lots of time exploring beaches. One in particular was an amazing beach called Whaleshead. We must have walked two miles in each direction along the beach -- the return trip, into the teeth of a northwest gale that sandblasted my legs.

Being at the foot of mountains, the beach was scored by numerous channels, cut by runoff: little ad-hoc creeks that you had to splash through as you went from one end to the other. As we got back to the trail leading up to the parking lot, Amelia squinted at the last channel. "What's that in the water there?"

I squinted too. "Looks like a deceased seal," I said. Then I saw its fin. "Wait a minute: that's no seal - that's a shark. A deceased shark."

"You're sure it's deceased?"

"Oh, yeah. It's beached."

At that point, we started crossing the channel about 20' downstream from the shark, and were proven wrong. The shark started thrashing in the water and gnashing its teeth. It was about 5' long and black with a white underbelly, fitting the description of a baby great white shark, we found out later (the owner of the B&B where we were staying said there had been sightings of great whites in the area). Then it settled down again and slumped over to one side.

This much I know about sharks: they don't actually "breathe", but rely on having water pass over their gills in order to take it in and extract the oxygen they need. They swim constantly, and this one, only partly submerged, was not getting the right flow. The tide was coming in, so if the shark could just stay alive until the water got to it, it might have a fighting chance.

The channel was wide with a reasonably deep middle: it looked deep enough for the shark to be submerged. So I took a stout stick and pushed the shark towards it -- gingerly at first, then I realized the thing was heavier and thicker-skinned than I thought. The shark hit the middle portion just as a wave came in. The surge of water revived it, and it started swimming towards the ocean, but its balance was off and it angled back to the bank and stayed there. Again, we pushed it, again, it came to life ... and again, it drifted onto the bank.

Clearly, it was sick.

The seagulls started lining up for the buffet.

We pushed again. It drifted again - this time, to the other side. We yelled at it. It ignored us. I threw a rock at one of the seagulls, who looked at me as if I were nuts.

"We've done all we can," Amelia said. "It's up to God now."

"Should we take a picture?" I asked.

"No. Let's leave this one in peace."

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