Photos & Story by
Taylor Main | SCDNR Photographer
It was an early morning at work, earlier than most. I was sitting in my car at the Bennetts Point boat slip before sunrise waiting to see the familiar SCDNR logo pull in beside me, signaling the beginning of my work day. I knew an exciting day on the water was ahead, as I was to take photos and video of our agency biologists attaching a satellite tag to a fin. My only frame of reference came from my annual binging of Shark Week on Discovery Channel. Jarring me from my thoughts, I heard the truck pull in, saw the four-person crew start loading gear from the bed of the truck onto the bow of the boat, took a deep breath, and opened my door.
I walked over to SCDNR Marine Biologist and leader of the day’s expedition, Bryan Frazier, and introduced myself. There were five of us on this trip: Frazier, Gorka Sancho, a professor from the College of Charleston, and two grad students, Chelsea and Nick. Once the gear was loaded, we hopped on the boat and started the very cold and windy ride into St. Helena Sound. I was anticipating baiting a hook and holding a reel while waiting for a tug on the line to alert us to a shark on the other end. Oops. In reality, the bait was set on a hook and attached to a very long and strong (think shark-proof) line and tied to a buoy. The rig was thrown overboard where it had to sit for at least two hours. We (I say we as if I was the one doing this manual labor) made our way through five set-ups and then it was time to just watch the clock.
There are few words to describe the level of excitement I felt when Chelsea was reeling in the first line and announced that there was, without a doubt, a shark on the end. Mind you, I had only ever seen a shark in the wild one time, and it had been caught by accident at the end of a pier. Seeing a fin come out of the water and knowing that you’re on a boat with nowhere to go is an eerie feeling.
Turns out, this was a blacktip shark, which was great, but not our goal of a tiger shark. The crew was able to determine the gender, draw blood, do an ultrasound, measure the shark, and tag the fin in what I would consider record speed. This happened two more times for a total of three blacktip sharks.
The first round of bait went three out of five for catching sharks, so as each line was reeled in, a new line was set. Like I said, the goal all along was to catch and tag a tiger shark. The first two lines of this next set came up empty, and I could tell the crew was getting a little antsy as to where these tiger sharks could be. The third line was the lucky one. You can get a general idea of the species of shark on the end of the line just by reeling it in. With his years of experience, Frazier correctly deemed this catch a tiger shark. This twelve foot and change shark came up out of the water and I actually momentarily forgot to take photos because I was in awe. How can this massive creature be before my eyes? Well, there she was.
Frazier and crew went right to work and secured her powerful tail with a lasso-type hold and a very thick rope to support her midsection. They skillfully attached this incredible piece of technology to the fin of the shark named Harry-Etta, named for the Harry Hampton Memorial Wildlife Fund. On several occasions, the crew was talking directly to her almost treating her as a puppy and not as an 820 pound shark that could rip an arm off. The level of respect this team had was amazing. Slipping into their routine, they attached this satellite tag that will ping when her fin surfaces anywhere in the world. The excitement continued as Chelsea conducted an ultrasound verifying Harry-Etta is in fact pregnant, measuring her entire length of 12 feet 2 inches, drawing blood, and a few other routine checks. Once verifying the tag was secure for the umpteenth time, Harry-Etta was off to the depths of the ocean once again.
We did have a second tiger shark make an appearance and she measured just shy of 14 feet long. That one took my breath away for a minute. The same tasks were completed again, just without the satellite tag this time. The last two hooks each brought up a sandbar shark, which were treated like the blacktip sharks and were measured, tagged, and sent on their way. I ended the day with a lot less energy but a lot more admiration for this incredible type of fish.
I have the coolest job, and the best part of it is being able to learn something more about this world we live in with every trip I take. I will be following Harry-Etta through her tracking device on OCEARCH and wondering if there’s a chance that one day, we’ll meet again. I’ll just plan on staying inside the boat when I say “Hi.”
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.