South Carolina

Someone killed a young 9-foot shark off the Hilton Head coast and cut its stomach out

A mutilated shark that washed up on a beach just a few miles north of Hilton Head Island is “perplexing” local experts.

Bryan Frazier, shark biologist at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said a local sea turtle protection team patrolling the beach submitted the photo of the cut-up shark to state officials.

The shark was found on the far south end of Bay Point, a 347-acre undeveloped island that can be seen from Hilton Head, according to iPhone location information on the photo.

Frazier said, from the photo, the juvenile tiger shark appeared to be between 200 and 300 pounds and looked as though it had been cut open by a human.

To him, it seemed that someone had removed the shark’s stomach to possibly examine it and had also tried to cut out its jaws and teeth.

“They eviscerated it .... with a straight-line cut that wasn’t done by an animal,” Frazier said. “It’s really a strange thing to do.”

Frazier said that it definitely wasn’t done by scientists, either.

“It’s a bit perplexing to see why anyone would do this,” he said. “You hate to see anything killed for no reason.”

Frazier said the shark had been dead for a few days by the time SCDNR officials had heard about it and was too far decomposed for scientists to use any part of it for research.

Chip Michalove, Hilton Head’s “great white shark whisperer” known for catching, tagging and releasing great white sharks, tweeted a photo of the dead tiger shark Thursday, calling the shark slaying “selfish.” The tweet was met with strong reactions.

“Just wrong! A beautiful fish destroyed for no reason,” someone replied to the photo of the butchered shark.

“Ignorant people have no respect for wildlife,” another person reacted.

Despite the fact that tiger sharks are an apex predator off the Lowcountry coast, they are legal to catch and kill in South Carolina waters. Anglers can kill up to one a day that is longer than 54 inches, Frazier said.

Catch-and-kill shark tournaments that target tiger sharks are also legal. Every June, Edisto Watersports and Tackle hosts an annual Shark Tournament.

All of the winners of the Edisto tournament over the past five years were tiger sharks ranging between 500 and 1,100 pounds, according to online reports. Tiger sharks are the biggest Lowcountry shark in the summertime and they’ve been found here every month except February. They average between 10 and 14 feet and 850-1400 pounds.

Michalove said he worries that too many tiger sharks are getting killed in the Lowcountry every year.

“Sharks that big can’t just be replaced,” the veteran fisherman said. “I’m worried for their population.”

Michalove said years ago, he used to catch and release between four and six tiger sharks a day in the Port Royal Sound. Now, he’s lucky if he catches one a week. He has caught several of the same giant tiger sharks multiple times over the past five years, including a 1,400 pounder he has caught three times.

“Sharks are the lions of the ocean ecosystem, and killing them means killing a lot of species below them that we also rely on,” Michalove said.

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