Just like humans, sharks get hungry on Hilton Head, too.
A Hilton Head man found that out Tuesday during a walk on the beach just before sunrise when he saw a shark feeding in the surf.
Georges van Hoegaerden captured video of the approximately 4-foot shark swimming off Sea Pines Beach Club around 6 a.m.
He said it looked like it was hunting for fish. He says he “frequently” sees sharks feeding during early morning hours off Hilton Head beaches.
Bryan Frazier, shark biologist at South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), confirmed the fish in the video is “definitely a shark” and likely a blacktip chasing a smaller fish, "likely a mullet."
“The surf zone is definitely a feeding area for sharks, everything from 12-inch Atlantic sharpnose to larger blacktip sharks,” he said.
Frazier has studied sharks for more than a decade and placed tracking tags on a “few thousand” blacktip sharks off the South Carolina coast — the type of shark scientists have said was the likely culprit in the last shark bite on Hilton Head Island when a 10-year-old was bitten in the arm.
Frazier declined to give an estimate of how many sharks are swimming off the South Carolina coast at this time of the year, but said the number is probably more than people think.
“I still swim in the ocean and my kids do, too. I always tell people it’s safe to swim in the ocean,” the shark scientist said.
Through Frazier's studies, he’s developed a theory that might bring South Carolina beachgoers some comfort.
“A good majority of the shark bites here involved small sharks that immediately release after they made human contact so they were more of a bite than an attack,” he said.
Frazier thinks the landscape of the Lowcountry helps keep the larger sharks, like the massive 13.5-foot tiger shark caught last week, away from the surf.
“The big sharks are mostly in the sounds and not near the beaches, and typically feed there, too,” he said.
Frazier said he’s learned that pups, also known as baby sharks, head "straight to the rivers" when they’re born in the Lowcountry sounds and smaller sharks are more likely to be in the surf or the rivers.
“Bigger sharks will devour smaller sharks, so the pups stay clear of the sounds and open ocean and head for the rivers where they can find a food source,” he said.
Low chances for shark attacks
The number of shark attacks in South Carolina during 2017 doubled from the previous year, according to an annual report released in February 2018 by the International Shark Attack File. There were 10 confirmed shark attacks in South Carolina. Of those, eight were on Hilton Head Island. Seven of the Hilton Head incidents occurred in shallow water and involved children.
Experts have stressed that the increased number of shark attacks are no reason to panic because they think more people now know to report shark attacks to authorities at the International Shark Attack File.
In Beaufort County, there have been a total of 26 documented attacks on record and no reported fatalities or lost limbs.
"Really when you think about the number of shark bites compared to the number of people in the water, your chances are very low," Frazier said.