As seasons change in the Lowcountry, so do the species of sharks swimming in our waters.
And this season brings a smaller, aggressive species that nurses young in Lowcountry waters in the summer: the blacktip shark.
“There are a ton of blacktips in the Calibogue and Port Royal Sound now,” Hilton Head Charter Captain Michalove of Outcast Sport Fishing, best known for his great white shark catches, said. “I’ve caught (and released) 20 this month already.”
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South Carolina DNR biologist Brian Frazier said that spring months bring blacktip, tiger and bull sharks to the Lowcountry, but the blacktips are the most abundant.
Here’s what you need to know about blacktip sharks:
1. Blacktips are abundant during swimming season in SC.
“Blacktips are probably the most abundant large coastal shark we have here.” Frazier . “It’s hard to determine how many are out there, but we know there are many.”
Michalove said that he catches and releases more than 200 every year between April and September.
“They love warmer water,” he said.
2. They love to lurk close to the shore.
According to NOAA, blacktip sharks swim close to the coast, prefer shallow waters and hunt schools of fish near land.
“You find them anywhere between 3-feet shallow water and 5 miles off shore,” Michalove said. “They hunt schools of fish close to shore.”
3. They are likely culprits for most shark attacks, but that’s hard to prove.
Shark attacks are very unlikely in South Carolina, but when they do happen it’s hard for scientists to determine what kind of shark is to blame for the attack based on the size and shape of the wound.
“Rarely do we ever get a definite ID on the species when we have a shark attack,” Frazier said. “But they are more likely the culprit because of where they feed.”
According to the International Shark Attack File, blacktip sharks are historically responsible for 28 unprovoked attacks on humans around the world.
“A lot of people blame tiger and bull sharks for the shark attacks here, but if you look at the size of the wounds, they have to be blacktips.”
Frazier said that blacktip shark bites are small and result in a few stitches. They also are not common.
“Rarely in South Carolina do we ever see any severe shark attacks, they usually result in a few stitches,” Frazier said. “We average about four to five shark bites a year, and compare that to the millions of people in our waters, it’s very very unlikely.”
4. Blacktips have several nurseries in the Lowcountry.
Michalove said that in April, many of the blacktip sharks he catches and releases are pregnant females here to drop their pups off.
“I’m seeing the bigger pregnant ones now,” Michalove said. “Seems like over half of them are pregnant right now. They're dropping 4 to 6 babies in the Port Royal Sound and Calibogue.”
Frazier said SCDNR biologists have confirmed blacktip nurseries in the Port Royal, St. Helena and Bulls Bay sound areas.
“There is probably one in the Calibogue Sound too, we just haven’t surveyed it,” Frazier said. “They like places where food is abundant and there are warm, shallow waters.”
5. They are “medium sized” and relatively identifiable.
Blacktips have a gray body with black markings on all but the rear bottom fin, closest to the tail. They can grow up to 6 feet and live longer than 10 years.
“If you see a shark swimming in shallow water, it’s likely they’re a blacktip,” Frazier said. “It’s pretty easy to tell them from their fins.”
6. They jump! And spin!
Michalove says blacktips in his experience are more aggressive on the rod than other shark species.
And they’re known to jump.
“They’re often seen jumping in the surf, mostly near shore,” Frazier said. “They’ll jump and spin around. People mistake them for spinner sharks a lot.”