Friday was “legendary” for Chip Michalove — and that’s saying something for the guy known as Hilton Head’s “Great White Shark Whisperer.”
Michalove and his three-man crew at Outcast Sport Fishing hooked seven great white sharks in eight hours a few miles off the coast of Hilton Head. Michalove has hooked more than 30 great white sharks in the last four years, but he’s never had a day like Friday.
“I’ve never dreamed of seeing that many in one day,” Michalove said. “We found this spot where there was a plethora of great whites, like barracuda swarming a reef.”
Michalove said he “never even had time to eat a sandwich” in the eight hours they were at sea.
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“We were battling great whites for more time than we were waiting for them,” he said. “It was incredible.”
Michalove said the cold snap this winter “shook things up” off the Lowcountry coast his normal spot where he hooked the 3,500-pound great white he called a “submarine with a tail” wasn’t working out this time.
“My crew brainstormed early in the day to come up with different locations to try since the first one wasn’t working out,” he said. “Then it was like the fishing gods opened up and gave us this place. If we had more people I feel like we could have caught two (great whites) at one time.”
But Michalove said he wouldn’t want to do that because he wants to keep the shark’s safety their first priority. Michalove works with scientists at the Atlantic Shark Institute and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy by placing tracking devices on the sharks. He’s become an expert in the field, being one of the only fishermen in the world to consistently catch great white sharks on rod-and-reel.
The crew carefully placed tracking tags on four of the sharks before releasing each one. The devices send scientists data on the sharks’ movement, water temperature, depth, and preferred locations as the fish make their way through the Atlantic.
“Depending on how the shark is acting and how healthy it is, we decide to place either satellite tags, acoustic tags, or PSAT tags,” Michalove said. “Each of those tags give scientists different information and data on the fish, but we make sure the way we catch them puts a minimal amount of stress on the animal. ”
Meet Charli the great white
A couple hours into the trip, a 12.5-foot, 1,500-pound female shark caught the line and “put up the hardest fight of the day.”
When the crew reeled in the monstrous shark to the side of the boat and gave her a satellite tag, they decided to name the shark “Charli” after 11-year-old Charli Bobinchuck who was killed in a crosswalk on Hilton Head this summer.
“I went to high school with Charli’s dad and he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met,” Michalove said. “She was an really was an outdoorsy girl who loved every animal from alligators to possums, so think she’d really love a shark to be named after her.”
Michalove said Hilton Head is a “tight community, and when someone is down we all do what we can to step in and help.”
“I think that shark would be honored to carry her name around,” he said.
Charli’s friends and family can watch the shark move through the ocean in real-time through the Sharktivity app.
Man jumps in with shark
The crew didn’t quit after releasing Charli.
Michalove had photographer Taylor Horton on board his 26-foot catamaran, along with fishermen Jon Dodd from the Atlantic Shark Institute and Patrick Malone.
“Taylor’s working on a documentary on great white sharks and has begged me to let him jump in next to a shark and film the shark in the water,” he said. “So finally on Friday, I let him.”
Michalove said they were very careful to make sure the shark wasn’t harmed in the process and Horton would be safe.
“We made a game plan for what to do if the shark would whip its head back and would for some reason go at him, but they really aren’t looking to feed when we have them on the side of the boat.”
Luckily, the crew didn’t have to use the “game plan” and Horton was able to get some “incredible footage,” while Michalove attached tags on two of the sharks.
Great white history?
After tagging Frank, an 8-foot male great white shark, named after Michalove’s hero the late Frank Mundus who the first fisherman to catch a great white on rod-and-reel in the Atlantic, the crew was ready to call it a day. But not Michalove.
“We were so beat and ready to celebrate, but I begged them to stay for one more,” Michalove said. “Thirty minutes later, we had a hog on the line and we had to hook him up and make history.”
Michalove said the 15-foot, 2,600-pound shark was lthe “largest male great white” ever tagged in the Atlantic.
“It was almost as wide as the boat, about three fourth of it,” Michalove said. “It’s always shocking to not only see the length of these sharks, but their width and their power is just incredible.”
Greg Skomal, biologist and leading great white shark researcher, told the Island Packet that Michalove’s 15-foot shark was the largest male tagged with a high-tech or electronic tag. He said the database that holds records for the largest sharks caught with conventional tags is currently closed due to the government shutdown.
But it’s safe to say that the shark was one of the largest male great whites caught in recent history, Skomal said.
Michalove said Friday’s epic fishing adventure opened up the possibilities of great white discovery off the South Carolina coast. Great white sharks visit the South Carolina region every year between December and March as they prefer a certain water temperature.
He previously estimated that there were 1,000 great whites off the South Carolina coast in the winter time. But now, he’s thinking there might be more out there.
“Skomal and his crew have tagged more than 140 great whites up in Massachusetts and we know the sharks migrate from there to (South Carolina) in the winter,” Michalove said. “I’ve tagged 20 (great white sharks) now, and none of them have had Skomal’s tags, which tells me there are a lot more out there than we think.”
Michalove he caught his first great white shark in 2015 after studying the animals for decades. He spent 12 straight, unsuccessful winters trying to catch a great white — before there was even proof they came near the Lowcountry coast.
“If you would have told me four years ago I would have hooked seven great white sharks in one day I would have said I had a better chance winning the lottery,” Michalove said. “And the exciting thing is we’re just scraping the surface here.”