A satellite tracking system identified a great white shark in a Charleston-area tidal river over the weekend, but scientists say it's unlikely the huge fish went that far inland.
Social media sites were full of chatter Monday about the 16-foot shark's appearance in a branch of the Wando River, several miles inside the mouth of Charleston harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. Marine biologists tagged the shark off Cape Cod in September.
But the Ocearch satellite tracking system, while widely praised as a way to follow shark movements, contains a margin for error. And in this case, that's likely the reason for the report, experts said. It would be highly unusual for a great white to venture into a Southeastern tidal creek, said scientists from Massachusetts and South Carolina.
Still, the satellite tracking is accurate enough to show the general location of the shark, and it clearly was in South Carolina waters Sunday, said Bryan Frazier, a biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
"I think that shark was very close to offshore Charleston, maybe even the mouth of Charleston Harbor," Frazier said.
Frazier and Greg Skomal, a Massachusetts biologist who tagged the great white in September, said it's not uncommon for the big carnivores to venture into South Carolina waters during the late fall and winter.
Scientists aren't sure why great whites move south this time of year. But they think it could be because the sharks follow schools of fish, need a place to reproduce or simply prefer to get out of New England's icy winter waters.
"We usually get a few reports each year of someone sighting them," Frazier said.
Great whites are among the largest of all sharks and have been blamed for numerous attacks on people, but they aren't much of a threat in South Carolina because great whites are typically here only when the water cools off and people stop swimming in the ocean.