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Hilton Head’s “shark whisperer” Chip Michalove was scouting a new fishing spot a few miles off the coast Thursday and his expectations were low for a catch, but a 12-foot great white shark decided to double down. “We tried a spot we’ve never tried before and, before we knew it, a white shark came up to the back of the boat and crushed two baits,” Michalove said. The only other person on the boat was Michalove’s friend, Hilton Head resident Pavel Vykopal, who has a rotator cuff injury from working on a roof and at the moment can use only one arm. “What do you think happens when I’m undermanned? We happen upon the largest fish of the season,” Michalove said Friday morning. “Lo and behold, the largest shark of the season, and it’s just me and a guy with a wounded wing.” The two men, with only three arms working between them, reeled in the more than 1,000-pound apex predator with two rods since it had taken both baits. It took about 25 minutes. “She was a good match for us,” Michalove said. Outcast Sport Fishing’s charter boat captain photographed the side of the shark’s face that was covered with scratches from a seal it had eaten previously before he tagged and released it. Michalove works with biologist Greg Skomal and Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to tag the sharks he catches. The tags give researchers insight about where sharks spend their time and answers a multitude of questions about how they live. Until Michalove started catching great whites in 2014, there wasn’t even proof they came close to Hilton Head. The shark he caught Thursday now sports two different tags. The first, a satellite tag about the size of a table tennis ball, will track the shark for six months. When it pops off, it will transmit its data and tell scientists not only where the shark went but also how deep and fast it swam. The second tag, an acoustic tag about the size of a cigar, will send out a warning if the shark comes too close to the beach in areas where there are receivers offshore, such as in Cape Cod. There is a third type of tag that would have tracked the shark in real-time, sending data each time the shark came close to the surface. Michalove opted not to attach that tag this time because he didn’t have enough people on board. We are in about the middle of the great white season off the Lowcountry’s coast. Great whites usually start to show up off Hilton Head in early December as they migrate south to warmer water from the New England coast. This year the season got a late start because the waters off Cape Cod were so warm. Michalove said it’s been a tough winter for great white fishing. “The weather’s been nice, but the seas haven’t. It’s been rough every day,” he said. And when the water has been calm enough, it always seemed to be raining. Though sometimes Michalove finds himself slipping and sliding on an icy dock to get to his boat this time of year, catching a great white makes the cold mornings worth it. “I just wanted to see one great white before I died,” he said. “I’ve landed 31, and I’ve hooked a little over 70.”
Lisa Wilson is a reporter for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette covering restaurant and retail business openings and closings along with occasional breaking news. The 27-year newsroom veteran has worked for papers in Louisiana and Mississippi and is happy to call the Lowcountry home.
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