Hilton Head angler assists with Atlantic white shark research

Hilton Head angler assists with Atlantic white shark research

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (WTOC) - We are at peak beach season, and though many head out to our local beaches for some safe social-distancing, they may not be alone in the water.

That’s one reason why Hilton Head Captain Chip Michalove has teamed up with an accredited marine biologist to tag and track sharks off our coast.

“The sharks don’t really have an opinion on what is going on on land. They are so migratory that nothing is going to slow these things down,” said Captain Chip Michalove, Outcast Sport Fishing.

Chip has been fishing off Hilton Head for the last 20 years.
Chip has been fishing off Hilton Head for the last 20 years. (Source: WTOC)

Michalove has been fishing off Hilton Head for more than 20 years and ventures out nearly every day. But it was one day five years ago that changed his course when he caught his first white shark off the coast of South Carolina. Soon after, he was approached by a notable marine biologist, Dr. Greg Skomal of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.

Chip caught this shark off the South Carolina coast about five years ago.
Chip caught this shark off the South Carolina coast about five years ago. (Source: Outcast Sport Fishing)

“To just tag off of Massachusetts, yes, we are tagging a portion of the population but we want to make sure that we are representing the whole population. That’s why working with Chip is so critical to our research,” said Dr. Greg Skomal, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.

Tracking sharks off the Southeast coast provides valuable data for the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

“The great white population, that’s wild. They start moving down here in December and they start moving back by April. The great whites are anywhere between seven-foot and seventeen-foot, so we have some giant white sharks swimming off this coast in the wintertime,” said Michalove.

Dr. Skomal has been researching sharks for over years.
Dr. Skomal has been researching sharks for over years. (Source: WTOC)

Michalove doesn’t just tag white sharks, he tags and releases tiger sharks as well. Often catching the same shark year after year. He says being able to track these sharks after they are tagged and released is important, especially after recent close calls in New England.

“There have been a number of shark bites off the coast of Massachusetts and most recently off the coast of Maine, so the more we understand about this species in these areas, the better equipped we are going to be to provide information to beach management and public safety officials,” said Dr. Skomal.

Sharks that are tagged can be tracked on the Sharktvity app. The app helps local officials know when a tagged shark is close to shore.

These icons represent a shark "pings" which can be analyzed in the Sharktivity App
These icons represent a shark "pings" which can be analyzed in the Sharktivity App (Source: Atlantic White Shark Conservancy)

But even with all the research that has been done so far, there is still a lot to be learned about these sharks.

“Well, we all know it has been a crazy season, a crazy year with the pandemic. Certainly, that impacts us, our behavior, and use of the beaches. The extent of which it is impacting the sharks, we don’t understand yet. It is certainly something we will be able to look at as we examine the data that comes in. We haven’t really seen any patterns, they are just going about their business,” said Dr. Skomal.

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