South Carolina

Hilton Head charter captain: There are more than 1,000 great whites off SC coast

Great white hooked off Hilton Head Island, SC

File: Chip Michalove of Outcast Sport Fishing snagged this juvenile great white shark Dec. 11, 2015, in Port Royal Sound off Hilton Head Island, S.C.
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File: Chip Michalove of Outcast Sport Fishing snagged this juvenile great white shark Dec. 11, 2015, in Port Royal Sound off Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Chip Michalove has been on the hunt for great white sharks for the last 12 years.

But not to kill them. The Hilton Head Island charter captain wants to catch, hook and tag the animals and learn everything he can about them.

“I’m obsessed,” he admits.”If there’s a shark documentary, book, show, article out there, I’m all over it.”

“And trust me, I would never ever think about killing one,” he added in response to some recent Facebook accusations after his most recent catch. “I want to protect this species.”

The Outcast Sport Fishing captain who gained recent national attention for hooking not one, but two great white sharks off Hilton Hilton Head said “it’s just the beginning” of his great white shark adventures this season.

Michalove has caught nine great white sharks in the last three years. He’s released them all. He’s obsessed, intrigued, and infatuated with the apex predator of the Atlantic. Michalove says the sharks he catches aren’t hurt in the process.

“I’ve been trying to catch great whites for the last 12 years,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of trying and failing and studying these sharks, but for the last three years, I feel like I’ve really gotten the hang of it.

I go above and beyond to make sure these sharks swim away as healthy as possible. I need them out there making babies and being comfortable in the area so I can study them more.

Fishing charter captain Chip Michalove

“The process and method I’m using is putting such minimal stress on the animals,” he said. “I go above and beyond to make sure these sharks swim away as healthy as possible. I need them out there making babies and being comfortable in the area so I can study them more.”

Now, every time Michalove heads out to sea in the winter on his 26-foot charter boat with his two-man crew looking, he knows something special is about to happen. Great white sharks are known to migrate from the Nantucket area off the coast of Massachusetts to South Carolina waters in the winter, according to Michalove.

“Ever since I caught my first great white three years ago, it was like something clicked, and I can usually find one every time I go out in the season.” he said. “I’m nervous the night before I go out because you know you’re about to witness something amazing.

Last week, during his first great white shark trip this winter, Michalove found his goal for the season when he laid eyes on “the largest great white (he’s) seen out there.”

“She could have eaten any of the tiger sharks I’ve caught; that’s how big she was,” Michalove said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

But just like that, the big fish escaped the hook and was gone.

Michalove has tagged three of the nine great whites he’s caught with acoustic tags that track the shark’s journey through the Atlantic. That information is sent to scientists at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in Chatham, Mass., where Michalove has teamed with scientists to further study the ocean’s fiercest predator.

“There are receivers in the ocean from Miami to Maine that track where the shark is,” Michalove said.

The more time Michalove spends studying great whites, the more he’s convinced there are more out there than we think.

“There’s just not enough science about these sharks out there, so the goal of all of this is to catch more and learn as much as we can about them,” he said.

Unfortunately, the strong northeastern wind sweeping the sea during the winter months makes it difficult to boat off South Carolina so Michalove can only go out a couple times a month in the winter.

That doesn’t mean the sharks aren’t out there. The great white shark population has seen an uptick in the last few years. NOAA credits the 1997 ban on hunting for the recent population increase. Scientists say there are between 3,000 and 5,000 great white sharks off the U.S. East Coast, according to PBS.

“I would say there’s over a thousand off the South Carolina coast in the winter,” he said. “They’ve tagged more than 100 in Massachusetts and I haven’t seen one of the tagged sharks. That tells me there are a lot more out there than we think.”

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

But that isn’t something that should scare people, Michalove said. He would know. In March, he accomplished the feat of a lifetime when he caught, tagged, and touched the nose of a 2,500-pound great white monster.

“Great whites are the most intelligent fish in the ocean, so they are smart enough to know that humans aren’t prey,” he said. “There hasn’t been a shark attack in South Carolina since the 1800s, and that’s debatable. They didn’t really know the difference between types of sharks then.”

Michalove said he has good feelings about catching great white sharks this season after his successful first trip.

“It’s only the beginning of the season, and I’m a well-oiled machine ready to go,” he said.

Mandy Matney: 843-706-8147, @MandyMatney

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File: Chip Michalove of Outcast Sport Fishing snagged this juvenile great white shark Dec. 11, 2015, in Port Royal Sound off Hilton Head Island, S.C.

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