Is Chip Michalove the great white shark whisperer? We’re starting to think he might be.
The Hilton Head charter captain of Outcast Sport Fishing encountered three great white sharks on Wednesday — a very rare feat.
Two of those sharks escaped him before he was able to tag them. Michalove was about to call it a day when he laid eyes on a 2,000-pound great white around sunset.
He didn’t want a repeat of New Year’s Eve, when he hooked and released the largest great white he’s ever tagged.
Michalove said the struggle of bringing in that 2,800-pound-plus predator in the dark was not a feat he wanted to repeat.
“Catching these (great whites) in the daylight is one thing because there are so many things to worry about and these are huge animals that are strategic and know what they’re doing,” Michalove said. “But doing it without any visibility is totally different. It’s a lot scarier.”
But there he was, late Wednesday night off the coast of Hilton Head Island, reeling in another beast, which he estimates was about 2,000 pounds. It was the third great white shark he tagged this season, and the sixth he’s caught since December.
“I couldn’t believe it, honestly,” Michalove said. “A few years ago, it was my whole life goal just to see one, and this season I’m seeing multiple in a trip. It’s unbelievable.”
Michalove said this shark was different. It fought hard and moved erratically.
“Waking up today, I felt like I was in a car accident from handling the rod,” he said. “But I guess adrenaline kicked in and we knew we had to tag him so we just went for it.”
Michalove said he was with two crew members on his 26-foot boat. They were able to reel in the shark, get a sample of his DNA, and tag and release it before 9 p.m.
Michalove has tagged five of the 11 great whites he’s caught with acoustic tags that track the shark's journey through the Atlantic and send information to scientists at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in Chatham, Mass., where Michalove has teamed with scientists to study great whites and their behavior.
“What Chip is doing is remarkable,” biologist Greg Skomal at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy said. “It adds a lot to our data and helps us answer big questions we have about great whites.”
Skomal said Michalove’s method of hooking the shark in the mouth causes minimal stress and damage on the animal.
“It’s rare to catch a great white shark because of their basic biology,” Skomal said. “And the more we catch and tag them, the more we can learn about and further preserve this species.”
Michalove said he would never think about killing a shark now.
“I used to kill [non-great white] sharks for money, and I made good money,” Michalove said. “But I’m a fisherman and killing sharks is killing the ocean’s ecosystem. It’s chopping down your own cherry tree.”
Skomal said Michalove has been working with his organization for more than a year now. He said it’s a “big deal” to tag three great whites in a one month period.
“It’s a testament of his expertise,” Skomal said. “He knows his area well, that’s for sure.”
Michalove said he’s even more confident in his future great white shark adventures now that he’s tagged a shark during every trip this season.
“I’m learning more every time I go out there,” he said.