Untamed Lowcountry

Hilton Head’s shark whisperer finds tooth of world’s largest shark from millions of years ago

Chip Michalove has seen all sorts of marine magic off the coast of Hilton Head Island.

He’s spotted a North Atlantic Right Whale bigger than an 18-wheeler.

He’s captured a car-sized manta ray on video as it floated a few feet from his boat.

And he’s hooked and released more than 30 great white sharks, which is what gave him the name “Shark Whisperer.”

But on Friday, he witnessed a different form of wildlife magic when he pulled in his anchor and found an ancient shark tooth belonging to the biggest shark that ever lived — the megalodon.

“I pulled up the anchor and yelled, ‘holy crap!’” the Outcast Sport Fishing charter captain said. “I was afraid we were were going to lose it.”

The 6-inch megalodon tooth was as big as Michalove’s hand and in “perfect condition,” aside from the bit of coral attached to it and a couple of worms inside.

“I couldn’t believe it, it’s the second time I’ve caught one,” Michalove said. “The first time, years ago, I thought it was a miracle. Now I’m thinking, what a nest egg of shark teeth we must have down there.”

Port Royal Sound, in particular, has been identified by scientists as a hotspot for sharks because of its high salinity and abundant food supply.

Measuring 50 to 60 feet in length, the megalodon ruled the ocean for more than 13 million years before it became extinct due to global cooling about 3.6 million years ago, according to the National History Museum.

A megladon shark tooth compared to a great white shark.

“It’s pretty wild to hold something that old, something that lived before Christ, before Rome, before humans,” Michalove said. “That thing has been in the water for millions of years. It’s hard to fathom what kind of critters were out there 3 million years ago.“

Michalove, who has reached into the mouths of dozens of great white sharks, said the size comparison between the two sharks was shocking. The megalodon was about three times the size of the great white shark.

The megalodon “could have easily swallowed a boat with a mouth that size,” Michalove said.

The megalodon lived in warm tropical and subtropical locations around the globe. Because these sharks grow and shed up to 40,000 teeth throughout their lives, megalodon teeth are fairly common to find, according to the National History Museum.

“We can find lots of their teeth off the east coast of North America, along the coasts and at the bottom of saltwater creeks and rivers of North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida,” Emma Bernard, fossil fish expert, said in a National History Museum article.

Michalove is convinced Port Royal Sound is a haven for shark teeth.

“I wish I had the guts to dive down there, but there isn’t enough money in the world for me to do that,” Michalove said. “To think of all the sharks we have swimming around between the bull sharks, tiger sharks, hammerheads — no way.”

Just on Tuesday, Michalove caught five sharks off the coast of Hilton Head.

“October is moving-out season for a lot of sharks, but right now we have tiger, bull, blacktip, spinner, great hammerhead, bonnethead, sharpnose, and nurse sharks here until they head out later this month,” Michalove said.

And then December marks the beginning of the best time of the year for Michalove — great white shark season, when he will be catching, tagging and releasing great white sharks for scientists at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in Chatham, Mass., to study the patterns of great white sharks.

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

Of all of the marine magic he’s witnessed as a fisherman, Michalove said the first time he saw a great white shark in 2014 was the best surprise of all. Before this encounter, Michalove spent 12 straight winters on a “great white goose chase,” as other fishermen called it, trying to find the apex predator of the Atlantic off the Lowcountry coast.

“I was all by myself, and the great white was circling the boat. It scared me so bad I almost cut the line and got out of there,” Michalove said. “I’m glad I didn’t.”