SC shark populations 'explode' this time of year. Meet 5 popular—and large—summer sharks

Summer is the sharkiest time of the year in South Carolina.

As water temperatures change in the Lowcountry, shark populations are quickly shifting off the coast of South Carolina.

In spring, great white sharks have mostly moved out of South Carolina waters and made their way north, S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologist Bryan Frazier said.

But as the biggest and baddest sharks of the Atlantic head north for the summer, several other large shark populations are making their way into Lowcountry waters. Scientists at DNR have tagged and tracked more than a dozen shark species off the Palmetto State coast to determine sharks' population size and their mating and migration patterns.

“We definitely see the most sharks here in the summer,” Frazier said. “They’re starting to move in early May, and many of them are dropping their pups off in nurseries and in a month or so, those populations are about to explode.”

Frazier said that DNR has found the larger shark species such as blacktips, hammerheads, bull and lemons sharks “dominate the sounds” with shark nurseries. In the Lowcountry, Port Royal and Calibogue sounds are known for abundant fisheries and large shark populations.

For Chip Michalove, Outcast Sport Fishing charter captain known as Hilton Head’s great white shark whisperer, his busy season is just beginning as the Lowcountry summer sharks enter the water.

“Hammerheads, tigers, and blacktips are just getting here,” Michalove said with excitement from behind the wheel of his 26-foot catamaran, cruising the Port Royal Sound in May.

“All of these sharks come pretty close to shore, but that doesn’t mean our waters aren’t safe," he said. "Shark bites in South Carolina remain relatively low. We average around four to five bites per year and they're mostly minor.”

Frazier said some years fluctuate, like last year when shark attacks doubled in South Carolina in 2017 — making it a record-breaking year for attacks in the state. He said that was no reason to panic.

“We think that has to do with populations increasing and more people swimming in the water," he said. "It’s completely safe to swim in the water here.”

“People fear what they don’t know,” Frazier said.

So if you’re curious about the large sharks that are lurking in the water, here are five of the most common/ popular large shark species in South Carolina waters in the the summer months.

Blacktip sharks

Blacktips are the most abundant of the large sharks in Lowcountry waters, according to SCDNR research. Michalove said that he catches and releases more than 200 every year between April and September.

Size: These sharks are usually between 4 and 5 feet long, but they can grow as big as 8 feet, according to the Florida Natural Museum of History.

How can you tell it’s a blacktip? Several of their fins are black-tipped. These sharks love the surf because they follow schools of fish. Frazier said if you see a shark swimming in the surf on a SC beach, chances are likely it's a blacktip.

Fact to know: They are likely culprits for most shark attacks, but that’s hard to prove, based on the size and shape of the wound. According to the International Shark Attack File, blacktip sharks are historically responsible for 28 unprovoked attacks on humans around the world.

Why they’re cool: They jump! And Spin!

“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.”

Tiger sharks

Tigers are also known as a “dangerous” shark because of the amount they’ve attacked humans worldwide, but the tiger sharks here rarely are responsible for attacks, experts say. They are the biggest Lowcountry shark in the summer and they've been found here every month except February.

Size: They average between 10 and 14 feet and 850-1400 pounds!

How can you tell it's a tiger shark? Its large size, for one, will make this shark stand out. The tiger shark is easy to tell from its black spots/ stripes all over its body and its big, broad head.

Tiger shark off the Hilton Head coast Outcast Sport Fishing

Fun fact: This shark loves murky coastal waters and can be sneaky.

Why they’re cool: Tiger sharks have a “limitless” diet, according to National Geographic. Scientists have found everything from tires to license plates in their stomachs. They also have the tendency to be overfished because their fins, flesh and livers have so much vitamin A.


Charter Captain Chip Michaolve of Outcast Sport Fishing pulls in a scalloped hammerhead caught and released off the Hilton Head coast April 28, 2018.

Bonnethead, scalloped, Carolina and great hammerhead sharks like to roam Lowcountry waters when it starts getting warmer, usually beginning in May. These sharks have heads designed for hunting, but don't worry: Most hammerheads are considered harmless to humans.

Size: Depending on the type of hammerhead, great hammerheads can grow up to 20 feet and weigh 1000 pounds.

How can you tell it’s a hammerhead? The flat, hammer-shaped heads and wide eye sets make these sharks excellent hunters with almost 360 views of their prey. They often trap stingrays at the bottom of the ocean. They also have extra tall dorsal fins.

What makes these sharks cool? These sharks are known for providing exciting catch-and-release fishing. Michalove lets his clients hold their heads while they’re in the water for a great-photo op (see below). Michalove warns that it’s important not to pull the big ones completely out of the water because they fight hard and can die fast from the struggle.

Donna Malone holds a scalloped hammerhead caught and released off the Hilton Head coast April 28, 2018. Mandy Matney

Fun fact: Recently, scientists discovered a new species of hammerhead off the SSouth Carolina coast they named the Carolina hammer. How cool is that?

Lemon sharks

This lovely lemon shark was caught and released off the Hilton Head coast. Outcast Sport Fishing

Lemons are known as the “social sharks” and even though they are large in size, they aren’t considered dangerous to humans because they feed at night.

Size: These friendly sharks are between 8-10 feet long.

How can you tell it’s a lemon shark? These sharks have yellow/brown/ gray coloring that matches the seafloor (making hunting easier).

Why they’re cool: Their distinct mouths make for awesome photos. And they’re social sharks, meaning they love living in groups. Recently, scientists discovered that these sharks actually make friends and learn behaviors from their friends. Now that is cool.

This lemon shark was caught and released off the Hilton Head coast. Outcast Sport Fishing

Fun fact: These sharks are considered a minor threat to humans as they've only been responsible for ten attacks worldwide.

Bull sharks

This bull shark was caught and released off the Hilton Head coast. Outcast Sport Fishing
Bull sharks are known for their “aggressive bite,” Frazier said. But despite the fact that they’re commonly found in Lowcountry waters, they rarely attack humans in South Carolina.

Length: These sharks can grow up to 8 feet long and average about 200 and 290 pounds.

How can you tell it’s a bull shark: Bull sharks were named for their stout bodies and bull-like reputations. They also have small eyes

Why they’re cool: Bullsharks can survive in both salt and fresh water, which is a reason Frazier said they’re blamed for so many attacks because they can live in so many different places, making their population more abundant. They love shallow water, too, so it explains their frequent contact with humans.

Fun fact: These sharks were blamed for a series of attacks in 1916 that eventually inspired the movie "Jaws. "

-Info from this article provided by the Florida Natural Museum of History and National Geographic. All sharks in the photos above were caught and released.