A pregnant tiger shark tagged off the waters of Hunting Island and “fresh mating wounds” on other tagged sharks has led a research team to believe South Carolina’s waters could be popular breeding habitats for one of our largest coastal predators.
A pregnant tiger shark dubbed “Harry-Etta,” clocking in at 12-feet-2-inches long and weighing a whopping 820 pounds, was tagged swimming north up the South Carolina coastline on Wednesday.
The distinctly striped tiger shark is one of the largest predators in coastal South Carolina waters – and now researchers will be able to follow the movements of Harry-Etta through her pregnancy, according to a release from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
SCDNR biologists, working in St. Helena Sound, caught and satellite tagged Harry-Etta on Nov. 1, according to the release.
Her movements in the ocean are now being tracked by the shark-tagging nonprofit group, OCEARCH.
“By providing real-time data as she cruises Southeastern waters, Harry-Etta could help researchers answer important questions about how long sharks of this little-studied species live, how often they reproduce, and where and when they migrate,” SCDNR spokeswoman Erin Weeks said in the release.
“Two years ago, the same SCDNR team affixed a satellite to Harry-Etta’s predecessor – another female tiger shark, dubbed ‘Harry-Ette,’ whose satellite tag was also sponsored by the Harry Hampton Wildlife Fund,” the release stated. “In South Carolina, adult tiger sharks typically range between 10 to 13 feet in length, with females reaching larger sizes than males.”
For several years, SCDNR biologists have worked to better understand the habits of these large predators with OCEARCH, charter captain Chip Michalove and College of Charleston researchers, according to the release.
“The work has shed light on the importance of South Carolina’s southern sounds, particularly St. Helena and Port Royal Sounds, as foraging and potentially nursing grounds for tiger sharks,” Weeks noted in the release.
“This is actually the third time we've encountered Harry-Etta,” said SCDNR biologist Bryan Frazier, who leads the agency’s shark-tagging efforts. “She was tagged with a conventional tag in 2013 by charter captain Chip Michalove and again by SCDNR in 2015 in Port Royal Sound. This time, we were able to apply a SPOT tag, allowing us to follow her movements over the next year.”
SPOT (Smart Position or Temperature) tags are small devices secured to a shark’s dorsal fin that track movement by sending signals to a satellite, or “pings,” each time they’re above water for more than 90 seconds, according to the release. “Like humans, each shark is unique in their habits of movement – so some animals ping frequently, while others surface only rarely.”
But Harry-Etta had special news to share with researchers when she surfaced for a new tag this month.
“We ... confirmed she was pregnant by ultrasound, so we can gain insight into what habitats she uses during gestation,” Frazier said.
“Harry-Etta is the 15th tiger shark Frazier’s team has fitted with a satellite transmitter in South Carolina – but the first one known to be pregnant,” the release stated. “In recent years, fresh mating wounds found on other tagged tiger sharks have led the team to believe that South Carolina’s southern sounds and nearshore waters could be important locations for tiger shark reproduction.”
Harry-Etta was named in honor of Harry Hampton of the Hampton Wildlife Fund and is the second shark to be tagged through the fund since its creation in 1981, the release stated.
“I’m happy our board, led by Chair Deidre Menefee, unanimously voted to fund a second tag," said Hampton Wildlife Fund Executive Director Jim Goller. "We're proud to support SCDNR in their efforts to study these magnificent creatures that frequent South Carolina waters. I fish St. Helena Sound where Harry-Etta was tagged, making this tiger very special to me. We are all super excited and can’t wait to follow her on the OCEARCH website.”