There was not really a shark making its way across Charleston, West Ashley and Mount Pleasant last week — despite what satellite tracking showed.
The blacktip shark that had been tagged by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources remained in the waters off the South Carolina coast.
But its tag — now that’s a different story.
As initially reported in a story by The Post and Courier, the tag popped off the shark and washed ashore on Sullivan’s Island. That was very close to the spot where it was fixed to the shark, according to Bryan Frazier, a scientist with the S.C. DNR.
The tag being picked up by someone and taken to their car.
Frazier and his fellow scientists at DNR knew the shark wasn’t really making its way through one of South Carolina’s biggest and most historic cities, including popular retail areas, before heading out to a suburban neighborhood in Mount Pleasant. But the satellite tracking the tag’s movements gave the appearance that the landshark was on an expedition through the Lowcountry, starting July 30.
Frazier said the person who picked up the tag drove with it for two days before taking it to a residence in Mount Pleasant.
“They took it out of the car, threw it in the grass, and it sat there for four or five days,” Frazier told The State Thursday, saying DNR knew the area where the tag was, and made a last-ditch effort to track it down in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood before almost all of its data was lost. “We put up flyers looking for it, but another person found it and didn’t know what it was and put it in the garbage.”
Frazier said the team actually found the person who sent the tag to its final resting place in the landfill, and they were apologetic about the mistake that cost DNR 98 percent of the data they were hoping to get from the shark’s movements.
The person who threw it in the trash did not see the label on the tag that offered a reward for calling the phone number listed, according to Frazier.
While that person missed out on a $50 reward, DNR is out of the information they hoped to apply to a study about the mortality rate of sharks after they have been caught.
This study is important because sharks are often caught by people fishing along the S.C. coast, or out in the ocean. But according to state law, blacktip sharks larger than 54 inches must be released back into the water.
Blacktips are one of them most commonly seen sharks in waters along the Carolina coastline, according to Frazier. Although they have been reported in attacks on humans, Frazier said that was mostly because blacktips “actively feed in the surf zone, so there are interactions.”
Outcast Sport Fishing charter captain Chip Michalove told the Island Packet that he catches and releases more than 200 every year between April and September.
Frazier said the tag would have told DNR three key things that would determine if the shark survived after being returned to the water:What was the water temperature, what was the water pressure and what was the light intensity.
If any of those measurables remained at the same level for 3 days, Frazier said DNR could presume that the shark was dead, since its movements would not be taking it up and down in the ocean, where those three factors would vary.
Further study of the information would also help scientists understand how the shark is moving in its environment.
“There are two main goals,” Frazier said of the research. “First, to determine the percentage of fish caught by anglers that survive. Second, record the variable on fight time and hook location on the fish.
“That will help us establish the best practices for releasing the fish so they survive.”
In addition, the tag would automatically release after 3 days if there were no changes, Frazier said. He said another thing that happens is 2 percent of the data recorded automatically uploads to a satellite charting its movements. But to get the rest, DNR needs the tag.
Although this tag was never recovered, Frazier said enough data was retrieved to determine this 6- to 7-foot shark that had been tagged was still alive. He said that less than 10 percent of the sharks caught and released die because they were captured.
When this tag was released, Frazier said DNR was optimistic it would be recovered. He did say that there have been instances where tagged sharks have been caught by fishermen and not released, and the tag was lost that way.
Although it’s illegal not to return a blacktip to the water, Frazier said there is no crime in failing to return the tag. Or discarding it.
In this instance, the only crime that could have been committed was the possibility of littering, although Frazier said he thinks the person who originally found the tag probably didn’t realize they left it in the grass.
“We waited, hoping the person would call us,” Frazier said. “But we were a day late and dollar short. Or at least a tag short, in this case.”