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Lauderdale: Shark nearly comes ashore on dog walk along Port Royal Sound

My wife went out to walk the dog last week and ended up walking a shark.

They were at the edge of Port Royal Sound. The mighty deep was lapping in at all of 6 inches. And there it was. The dorsal fin of a tiny version of "Jaws" came gliding by.

Brae Brae the wonder dog dashed into the surf as if she'd been assigned to the Shark Safety Patrol.

For Brae Brae, it was another chapter for her memoir: "My Daring Chases That All Came Up Empty."

For us, it was a puzzlement. We know that sharks live cheek by jowl in Port Royal Sound. But why was it so close? Are there more of them this year? Will they soon be knocking at our door, like "Saturday Night Live" Land Sharks trick-or-treating?

Port Royal Sound usually does a better job of hiding her secrets beneath the gentle waves.

Couch potatoes can easily forget that it's the deepest natural channel on the East Coast, and it's home to some 20 different species of sharks and rays.

"We just caught an 800-pound tiger shark this morning," Chip Michalove said Tuesday from his charter boat, Outcast. "This is the best tiger shark fishery in the world."

These sharks look like a '57 Chevy, and are almost as big. They have been seen cruising on the inland side of the Broad River bridge. Bull sharks go farther up river, reaching Interstate 95.

Port Royal Sound has produced two state-record sharks for Michalove's boat, a 380-pound lemon shark and a 163-pound blacktip shark.

And who knows? Maybe the great white shark also crosses the bar from time to time. A 3,600-pounder hooked up with an OCEARCH global shark tracker has pinged at the mouth of Port Royal Sound. And Michalove said he hooked and landed a great white shark on March 15 just off the sound.

Al Stokes at the Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton suspects the little fellow we took for a walk was a bonnethead shark that was in close at low tide to catch a fresh crab. It was nothing unusual.

"Y'all get excited about the views here," Stokes said. "I get excited about what is under the water that we can't see."

He describes it as a giant nursery -- large, deep, wide and filled with a stable, high salinity level.

"It's a plankton soup in there when everything is spawning."

Stokes said there's nothing like it in the world and we should sit back and take a closer glimpse at the uniqueness of Beaufort County.

David Harter of the Hilton Head Island Sportfishing Club said the jaws of the state-record lemon shark will be part of a coming exhibit on sharks at the Port Royal Maritime Center on S.C. 170 at the Chechessee River.

"There were 13 stingray barbs in the jaws alone," he said.

His point is that when the major predators are eating well, the whole food chain is OK.

For that reason, we love sharks. Michalove practices catch-and-release. Scientists are studying the movement and habits of the sharks more than ever.

And Tony Mills, a naturalist and educator with the Low Country Institute on Spring Island, says in a "Coastal Kingdom" television show that the sharks "are very good for fisheries and it's good that we have them here."

And in case you're worried about walking your dog, there's this: "These sharks just don't mess with people very often," Mills said. "Since about 1860 or so, there have been only five unprovoked shark attacks in this county and zero fatalities."

But we won't tell Brae Brae.

The great shark hunter remains a legend in her own mind.

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