WINTER COLUMN: Great white track feeds shark fever
News that a 16-foot, 3,500-pound great white shark named Mary Lee swam near or into Charleston Harbor this week electrified the local maritime community.
Depending on who you ask and which satellite track you believe, the tagged great white either swam along our coast a few miles from shore or cruised into Charleston Harbor and all the way to — and even up onto — Daniel Island. (After seeing the track one colleague joked that it must have picked up strand-feeding tips from local dolphins.)
I was sitting in a tree stand hunting deer Sunday afternoon when texts and e-mails started to fly about a great white hanging around off Bulls Bay. By Monday morning, the story, based on the OCEARCH website (sharks-ocearch.verite.com), had gone viral. Social media buzzed as track updates showed the great white venturing far into Charleston Harbor.
The Post and Courier published a story saying OCEARCH researchers doubted that Daniel Island “ping” was correct, and by late last week, the satellite track had been smoothed out, with the jog into Charleston Harbor removed. The new track shows Mary Lee swimming past the tips of the jetties before heading down to nearshore water off Savannah and then Jacksonville.
It remains unclear whether Mary Lee actually took a Holy City harbor cruise. But the incident proved one thing: People remain fascinated by the mysterious journeys of such a large, wild predator.
Our inshore, nearshore and offshore waters are filled with awe-inspiring creatures, some dwarfing ole Mary Lee. Right whales, pilot whales, sunfish, marlin and swordfish all inhabit or visit the waters off our coast. But sharks gain the most attention here on land, with great whites (image 1) grabbing the biggest headlines.
Anglers sometimes return from a winter fishing trip off Charleston telling wild tales of a great white encounter. Usually the sharks aren’t hooked or caught — which is good because they’re a federally protected species. Often the great whites simply swim up to check out a boat.
A few years ago, a 13-footer washed up on the beach at Morris Island (image 2). A necropsy shows the big shark had very little in its stomach. Biologists did find a few scales from big red drum, a discovery that fired my imagination. Who wouldn’t want to witness and record a mature white shark tearing into a school of bull red drum?
Stories involving other, less well known shark species are much more common in the Lowcountry. Large tiger (image 3) and hammerhead sharks (image 4) regularly patrol the nearshore wrecks and reefs off Charleston. Both species will not only take baits intended for game fish but also attack hooked fish. We once had a 8-foot hammerhead make a run at a wahoo we were gaffing at the side of the boat. The shark shot out from under the boat, missed the wahoo by inches and gave our whole crew a cardiac stress-test.
I’ve seen enormous hammerheads, one easily topping 800 pounds, cruising the surface at offshore trolling grounds, and fought one about 10 feet long to the boat a few summers ago in just 50 feet of water.
The biggest tiger shark I’ve ever tangled with measured about 8 feet long, though some Lowcountry anglers have caught much-larger tigers in the 1,000-pound range.
It’s probably good that researchers don’t plant satellite tags in more huge sharks — none of us would ever go in the ocean again. We might even steer clear of Charleston Harbor.
Toys for tots
The Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement division is teaming up with the Marines again this year for the Toys for Tots campaign.
You can drop off new, unwrapped toys at DNR’s license office and Marine Resources Lab at the end of Ft. Johnson Road on James Island.
For more information, contact 1st Sgt. Angus M. MacBride at 843-953-9307 or email@example.com.
State Sen. Chip Campsen and his brother, Richard Campsen, are leading an effort to help a veteran DNR officer.
Sgt. J.B. Kinsey’s house in St. George burned Nov. 1, leaving little for Kinsey, his wife and their two sons.
The Campsens are hosting a fundraiser for the Kinsey family on the Spirit of the Lowcountry, the Campsen family’s SpiritLine Cruise charter boat.
The three-hour cruise Nov. 18 includes food, beer and wine, a silent auction and entertainment. Tickets are $25. Boarding is 6:30 p.m. at the Fountain Walk dock at the Aquarium Wharf.
To donate a silent auction item, services, or money, contact Mary Elizabeth or Dawna at SpiritLine Cruises at 843-722-2628.
Reach Matt Winter, Tideline magazine editor, at 843-937-5568 or firstname.lastname@example.org.