June 11, 2014

5 Port Royal Sound tiger sharks ‘pinging’ on OCEARCH map

Did you know Port Royal Sound tiger sharks will swim more than 60 miles out into the ocean and back in one day?

Did you know Port Royal Sound tiger sharks will swim more than 60 miles out into the ocean and back in one day?

Or that they have been known to travel as far as eight miles inland in rivers — all the way to Interstate 95?

Neither did scientists, until they began tracking a handful of tiger sharks last month through a partnership between the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and nonprofit organization OCEARCH.

As part of the study, about 10 sharks will be tagged with satellite trackers, which “ping” the sharks’ locations when their fins breach the surface.

Scientists believe Port Royal Sound has the largest concentration of sharks on the East Coast and hope the tracking will shed light on why, according to Bryan Frazier, a DNR marine biologist.

The tiger sharks tagged in the sound also will appear on OCEARCH’s online tracking map, which allows anyone to follow the sharks’ movements with each ping.

So far, Frazier and his team have put satellite tags on five tiger sharks with the help of Chip Michalove, captain of Outcast Sport Fishing on Hilton Head Island. Over the next few weeks, the team will tag five more sharks, Michalove said.

“We’re getting some beasts, and we’ve still got a few more to do,” Michalove said. “The data we’re already getting is amazing.”

The tagged sharks represent a mix of males and females, young and old, ranging from 9 to 13 feet long and from 250 to 1,000 pounds, according to the OCEARCH website.

The marine biologists also are collecting DNA and blood samples from each shark and performing ultrasounds on those they tag, Michalove said. One shark, Anne Morrow, is pregnant, he added.

Port Royal Sound “is the deepest natural channel on the East Coast, and not only is it the deepest, but we have the most structure,” Michalove said. “I think our tiger shark fishery is definitely the best in the country and possibly the best in the world.”

All of that data should help shed light on what part of the sound the sharks frequent, their habits and where they go in the winter when the water turns cold, he said.

“The amount of knowledge we’re getting from this is really cool,” he said.

In early May, the team tagged its first shark — an 11-foot-long, 650-pound female named Miss Michalove, in honor of Michalove’s late mother.

“She’s really the one who kept me motivated and told me to chase my passion instead of push a pencil,” he said. “I couldn’t think of a better way to honor her.”

Each of the other Port Royal Sound sharks are named for someone special. Al is named after Al Perkins, a conservation leader and Costa Sunglasses executive. Septima, who weighs 1,000 pounds, is named after civil rights activist and South Carolina native Septima Poinsette Clark. Fritz honors former U.S. Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, who championed conservation and pushed to establish the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

At the end of 2013, two great white sharks OCEARCH tagged were pinged just off the coast of Beaufort County. The map received attention in the spring as scientists and fans tracked another tagged great white, Lydia, as she pinged her route all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.

Follow the Port Royal Sound sharks

Follow the tiger sharks tagged in Port Royal Sound on the OCEARCH shark tracker at HERE

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