Hilton Head charter captain Chip Michalove said his latest shark tagging expedition started like many, with near-freezing temperatures and a long wait to see a great white.
Beyond that, however, nothing about last Thursday was typical.
After a day on the water, around 2 p.m., a shark took the bait.
“As many great white sharks I’ve seen, the adrenaline rush, there’s nothing quite like it,” said Michalove, known locally as the Great White Shark Whisperer due to his expertise in research and tagging sharks off Hilton Head for scientific reasons. to research.
As Michalove and his boat mates brought the shark back, the animal turned around and charged their boat.
“It went under the middle of the hull and the line snagged on a barnacle,” Michalove explained. He tried to free the line, but nothing worked, so he was faced with a difficult choice.
“If the line breaks, the fish walks away with quite a bit of gear hanging from it,” the captain said. “I needed someone to get in the water and free this thing.”
Dream of a lifetime
Ben Friedman, who recently moved to Tampa, Fla., from St. Louis, said he didn’t hesitate to jump into the ocean, despite the risks. The 30-year-old, who hosts an outdoor show that will soon launch online, said he’s been obsessed with sharks since he was a child and had waited years to go on an expedition with Michalove .
“There was nothing in the world I wasn’t going to do,” Friedman said of his split-second reaction. “I just jumped as fast as I could.”
Friedman said he grew up fishing and had experience untangling jetty lines, bridge piles and crab traps. He knew what to do.
But he also knew what the angry shark was capable of if something in their plan went wrong.
Once in the freezing February water, he glanced in the shark’s direction but focused on the line.
“By the time I got unstuck, I could have beaten Michael Phelps,” Friedman said, comparing his swimming speed to get back in the boat to the legendary Olympic medalist. “I have never moved faster.”
Michalove called the experience both physically and mentally exhausting. He was on high alert with the shark they had caught, but was also keeping an eye out for other sharks that might be in the area.
A label and a name
Once the line was freed, the crew rolled up the female shark near the side of the boat, took her measurements – 10 feet, 8 inches long and about 750 pounds – and affixed satellite tags to her. Michalove noted a few scratches on the left side of her face that told her she had hunted seals.
“When the whole tagging process was done, we celebrated like we won the lottery and called it a day,” he said. Four days later, he felt like he was still recovering.
Michalove, who operates Outcast Sport Fishing in Hilton Head, has a permit to catch, tag and release white sharks, a federally protected species, so they can be tracked by scientists from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.
Before Michalove began catching white sharks off the Lowcountry in January 2014, there was no data on them further south than New York. Since then, he has tagged dozens, helping scientists better understand the species and its winter migration patterns.
The public can watch the sharks’ movements through the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s Sharktivity app.
Michalove takes every precaution possible to ensure the sharks are not harmed during the tagging process. It also keeps its capture techniques and location secret so that the information is not easily used by others to harm the species.
“I feel like the weight is on my shoulders to make sure these fish don’t get accidentally killed,” he said.
One of the benefits of tagging sharks is that Michalove can name them. Even though this shark is female, Michalove says it will be named after an avid Hilton Head fisherman, Bob Hughes, who died in 2021. The shark will be called Bob-O, Hughes’ nickname and the name of his boat.
Friedman said the experience made him feel a special connection to the shark.
“It was easily the best day of my life,” he said. “…It’s just surreal.”
Besides searching for a great white shark, Michalove had another goal: to launch a small, handmade sailboat into the sea.
The blue and green, wooden boat had run aground near Tower Beach in Sea Pines in July and was found by a member of the Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Patrol. Patrol volunteers monitor the island’s beaches during nesting season.
The only thing written on the boat was “In loving memory” and “1948-2020”. There was no name or place.
After a post on the patrol’s Facebook page, a man came forward and said he found the boat on Tybee Island earlier in the month and returned it to sea with the help of a naturalist of the island. His story was detailed in Garden and Gun magazine.
Hilton Head Patrol Director Amber Kuehn held the boat for a while to see if anyone would claim it. She told The Island Packet that she hadn’t opened the boat to confirm the small vessel contained someone’s ashes, but thought that was a plausible conclusion.
She asked Michalove to take the boat back to sea, and he said he was honored to be part of the boat’s history.
“We said a prayer, and we put the boat in the water and told that person we loved him, and we pushed him away,” he said. “I don’t know where this little boat will end up next.”