Lifeguards Perform Rescue Mission At Earle Road Beach

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Sharks , Beaches

Harwich lifeguard Nathaniel Rowe was called a hero for immediately responding to the sighting of a fin in the water off Earle Road Beach last week. The fin turned out to be a tuna. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — Swimmers along Earle Road Beach panicked last Wednesday after a fin was seen cutting through the waters just offshore. There were 30 to 40 bathers swimming and wading near the shore, and four kids headed for the buoys that mark the outer swimming limits at the beach.

But quick action by lifeguards quickly defused the situation and prevented any injuries.

Maureen Condon said she was in the water at the time and the lifeguards quickly got everyone out. People were screaming and running to the shore as fast as they could, she said. She praised lifeguard Nathaniel Rowe, who got on a surf rescue board and went out and got the swimmers who were out at the buoys.

“He did a very brave thing. Everybody on the beach was really impressed. It was a real scramble getting everybody out of the water,” Condon said.

“The lifeguards blew their whistles because a fin was seen in the water,” Maura O’Neil wrote an email to Recreation Director Eric Beebe about the incident. “Panic set in immediately as some kids swam out to the buoy and were still out there. To the average person this fin, swimming and thrashing, was a shark and it appeared that the shark was feeding on something close to shore and was whipping his tail all around.

“The kids out deeper were completely panicked and frozen, screaming for help. To me it seemed like a scene from 'Jaws' with the crowd screaming ‘Swim, swim!’ Most drama I have seen in the 35-plus years I have been coming down to the Cape. It was very scary to watch and be helpless.”

Upon close examination, a determination was made that the fin did not belong to a shark but to a bluefin tuna. There was blood around the tuna as it thrashed in the water just offshore, and there was speculation it was somehow injured, possibly hit by a boat. Shortly thereafter it disappeared into the depths of Nantucket Sound.

“To me this lifeguard is a hero,” O’Neil wrote. “I told him on the beach and I’m telling you. I know these lifeguards make about $16 to $18 an hour. The lifeguard thought it was a shark and still entered the water! I was proud to witness a true hero yesterday.”

Rowe, who grew up in Harwich, has been a lifeguard for the town for four years. He is also a student at the University of New Hampshire. He said the tuna was about four feet long.

“I was just doing my job. Thankful the training I got was solid,” Rowe said. “I did it as quickly as I could, getting to the four kids out at the buoy.”

Rowe said he heard a parent shrieking, lifeguards cleared the water and he grabbed the surf rescue board, passing by the creature on his way out to get the kids. It was his first rescue, he said.

The harbormaster’s boat was called to the scene, but Harbormaster John Rendon said they did not see the tuna. After looking at a video, he agreed it was a bluefin tuna. Beebe also had a photograph that verified it was a tuna.

“The guards did a great job, they followed protocol in clearing people from the water and not letting them return immediately,” he said. He praised Rowe’s quick response, calling the lifeguard “one of our veterans.”

While great white sharks are commonly seen along Monomoy Island on both the Nantucket Sound and Atlantic Ocean sides, a visit by sharks to the Harwich beaches is not a common occurrence. In his 17 years working with the recreation department, Beebe said the only incident he can remember was a dead white shark washing up on Pleasant Road Beach.

“I don’t remember any time since I’ve been here that we shut the beach down because of a shark sighting,” agreed Rendon, who has been working the Harwich waters for a decade.

“It’s a scare, but it’s OK. It’s almost a drill for our guards, and they responded well,” said Beebe.