After two long, sharkless days anchored in Port Royal Sound, the team of fishermen and scientists aboard MV OCEARCH saw some excitement Wednesday afternoon when they hooked a tiger shark.
The group was on a quest to find great white sharks off the coast between Hilton Head Island and Beaufort as a part of Expedition Lowcountry.
But the immature, male tiger shark sparked a good deal of excitement.
Earlier in the day, Chris Fischer, OCEARCH’s founding chairman and the expedition leader, decided with crew members to move the 126-foot vessel from its location four miles offshore to a spot further off the coast.
The tiger shark — Fischer named him “Beaufort” for “the people of Beaufort, South Carolina, to have their own nice little male juvenile shark” — was still a special catch for the scientists. The animal may be small down but his species typically grow to 10-14 feet.
“It’s very unusual for us to see tiger sharks and white sharks at the same place,” Fischer said. “We’re probably in an area here where two worlds are colliding. Tiger sharks like warmer temperatures and white sharks like cooler temperatures. It’s cool to see.
While OCEARCH’s main mission on Expedition Lowcountry is to catch and study great white, the organization is also gathering data for a southeastern United States tiger shark research project, according to Fischer.
Bryan Frazier, the lead scientist and a marine biologist at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, is a part of that project. Frazier recently published a study that found tiger sharks — along with sandbar, blacktip and spinner sharks — are growing in abundance in the southeast.
“It’s awesome to push the ball forward on that project, so we’re thrilled to get two tigers and two great whites in the Lowcountry,” Fischer said. “All four sharks were tagged and got a full science workup with blood and DNA samples. We’re trying to learn as much as we can about these large sharks, so to catch two types of species in one trip is more efficient.”
Fischer said the success of the trip so far may mean his team conducts future expeditions in the Lowcountry.
“I think everyone has known the Lowcountry as a very sharky place, with lots of different species of sharks, and I think this is a sign of (what) a good, healthy habitat you have here,”he said. “You would not have lots of sharks if you didn’t have lots of fish, and it shows the ocean is being taken care of by the public.”
On Friday, the team caught, tagged, and released its first great white of the expedition — a 1,326-pound, 12.5-foot, mature male they named “Hilton,” after “the great people of Hilton Head Island.”
They also caught, tagged, and released “Weimar,” a 304-pound, 9.4-foot male tiger shark named after OCEARCH’s long time supporter, Ruth Weimar.
On Sunday, the group reeled in Savannah — a young, 8.5 foot female great white.
“We like to name the sharks after local communities so they can really get involved with the education programs we have going at OCEARCH and track the shark they feel is their own,” Fischer said.
Expedition Lowcountry will continue off South Carolina coast until March 15.