Untamed Lowcountry

11-foot Hilton Head great white shark spotted off Cape Cod chomping on a seal

Hilton Head’s Great White Shark Whisperer felt a rush of pride when scientists in Massachusetts told him they spotted a shark devouring a seal on Tuesday off the coast of Cape Cod — a shark he tagged two years ago in South Carolina

“She was by far the easiest and calmest shark I ever worked on,” Chip Michalove said, calling the shark he caught over two years ago “sweetheart.”

Of all the great white sharks Michalove has caught, tagged and released off the coast of Hilton Head, 8-foot Miss Carolina was special to the Outcast Sport Fishing charter captain known as the Great White Shark Whisperer.

“She’s gotten bigger,” he said, looking at the photo.

On Tuesday, a spotter pilot radioed to the research team at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy that a shark had attacked an animal off the Monomoy coast. By the time the research team got to the area, the shark was no longer visible, but scientists checked the shark’s tracking data and identified Miss Carolina as the one seen on an aerial camera swimming away from the bloody water.

In January 2017, Miss Carolina made shark history as the first great white to be tagged off the coast of South Carolina using Smart Position and Temperature tracking. The satellite tracking tag on the shark gives scientists and shark enthusiasts the ability to follow the shark’s movements in real time as it swims thousands of miles through the Atlantic.

Michalove has been working with scientists at Conservancy in Chatham, Mass., to study the patterns of great white sharks as they migrate from the southeast coast in the wintertime to the New England area in the summer.

He has tagged more than a dozen white sharks with the Conservancy, and Tuesday’s encounter was a good sign for the study. This is the second shark Michalove has tagged off the Hilton Head coast that has been spotted off Cape Cod.

“It shows there is undoubtedly a connection,” he said. “She looks healthy and heavy, and it’s great to see a successful hunt. If she fed off Cape Cod yesterday, she’ll be back in the area at some point, this year or next.”

Miss Carolina was a young juvenile when she was caught in 2017 and has grown to an 11-foot-long predator.

“It’s like watching your kids growing up,” he said. “Miss Carolina successfully getting a seal on that beach was like taking the training wheels off your son’s bike. Proud to be a part of this.”

Spearheaded by Dr. Greg Skomal, the scientists in Massachusetts have tagged more than 140 great white sharks as a part of the study. Michalove hasn’t caught any of those sharks in South Carolina.

Great White Science

Michalove works to ensure the process and methods he uses to catch great white sharks on rod-and-reel puts minimal stress on the animal.

He’s been studying great whites for decades now. He spent 12 straight, unsuccessful winters trying to catch a great white — before there was even proof they came near the Lowcountry coast.

Like clockwork, great white sharks swarm to Lowcountry waters every winter from December to March. Michalove has previously estimated that there are around 1,000 great whites off the South Carolina coast in the winter.

Michalove, who has hooked more than 30 great white sharks, is already looking forward to great white shark season in December.

“We figured a lot out last winter. Instead of waiting all day to see one (great white), we’re now getting a few per trip,” Michalove said.

Last year, his crew hooked seven great white sharks in a day. He also hooked a 3,500-pound great white he called a “submarine with a tail.”

This year, he wants to catch and tag the biggest great white shark in the Atlantic.

The Port Royal Sound, in particular, has been identified by scientists as a hotspot for sharks because of its high salinity and abundant food supply. Because great whites are here only in the winter, there has never been a great white shark attack in South Carolina waters, according to SCDNR.

Mandy Matney is an award-winning journalist and self-proclaimed shark enthusiast from Kansas. She worked for newspapers in Missouri and Illinois before she realized Midwestern winters are horrible, then moved to Hilton Head in 2016. She is the breaking news editor at the Island Packet.