A 2,800-pound, 14-foot great white caught off the coast of South Carolina on Dec. 8 by charter captain and “shark whisperer” Chip Michalove is the first shark in the southeast Atlantic to be fitted with a new camera tag that provides marine biologists with fascinating footage of the apex predator’s movements.
Michalove, who runs Outcast Sport Fishing out of Hilton Head, was on his first shark excursion of the winter, the season great whites begin moving down from their summer feeding grounds around Cape Cod in search of warmer waters. Accompanying him were anglers Ed Young, EJ Young, and Dave Clark, who reeled in the shark, and researcher Megan Winton of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, who helped deploy four tags: Pop-up satellite archival (PSAT), spot, acoustic, and the new camera tag.
Pop-up tags hang on for 8 months, spot tags for about a year, and acoustic tags for up to 10 years, giving scientists a wide range of data about the species’ movements and preferred habitat. (Scientists got their first data Dec. 10 when the great white pinged its location, which is reported in real time on the Conservancy’s Sharktivity app.)
The camera tag—which researchers have previously deployed on 20 sharks in the Cape Cod area—is attached to the dorsal fin and provides a visual record of the shark’s movements for about a day before detaching. Scientists must then recover the tag to review the footage.
According to Myrtle Beach Online, camera tags have shown “a shark get zapped by a torpedo, others stunned by seals and diving birds, one staring at rocks and buoys, and another relying on the current after eating to push water through its gills instead of constant swimming.” Winton was able to recover the camera tag with Michalove’s help, and she is now engaged in the long, slow process of downloading the footage.
Michalove told Field & Stream that he estimated the shark’s weight based on his experience catching large tiger sharks; he also makes use of a chart for great whites that provides weight ranges based on length. “Typically a 14-footer should weigh around 2,000 pounds,” he wrote in a text message, “but this girl was extremely girthy. She wasn’t pregnant, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a handful of seals in her belly. Lots of seal scratches all over her face, and both older scars and fresh ones tell me she’s probably a pretty good hunter.”
Michalove named the shark LeeBeth in honor of LeeBeth Young, a shark enthusiast who died two years ago at age 34. “She absolutely loved shark fishing,” he wrote in an Instagram post, “and was definitely watching her dad, brother, and family friend catch and satellite tag a true lifetime fish.”