Biologists with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources have tagged their first pregnant tiger shark in the state’s coastal waters.
Harry-Etta is 12 feet long and weighs 820 pounds, which is about average for a female tiger shark. She’s been tagged by South Carolina shark researchers twice before, but this time, she’s fitted with a satellite tracking device.
“This is actually the third time we’ve encountered Harry-Etta,” SCDNR biologist Bryan Frazier, who leads the agency’s shark-tagging efforts, said. “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.”
What’s even more special is that Harry-Etta is pregnant, and that will help researchers learn more about the mating and pregnancies of tiger sharks.
“This is the first confirmed case they have of a pregnant tiger shark off our coast so she’s really going to be able to shed some light on what the behavior and movement of a pregnant shark in South Carolina would be,” said Erin Weeks with the SCDNR Marine Division.
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.
Weeks said researchers have been tagging tiger sharks between Edisto Beach and Port Royal Sound for about five years.
“This is — kind of demonstrates — the importance of this tagging and its effectiveness because she is not a new shark at all to our researchers, so we’ve been able to track her for the past few years already,” Weeks said.
Since 2013, about 15 sharks have been fitted with the satellite-tracking tags. Harry-Etta can be tracked through the OCEARCH Global Shark Tracker.
“It’s great news for us to learn all this about large coastal sharks in the waters because they are good indicators for the health of the ecosystem,” Weeks said. “So we know when there’s good, healthy populations of these large sharks out there, the rest of our ocean ecosystems are doing pretty well, too.”
Despite these big creatures with lots of teeth spending time off the South Carolina coast, Weeks said people should not be afraid to go into the water. She said most sharks let go and swim away once they realize a human limb is not food.
“The likelihood of being bit by a shark in South Carolina is exceedingly low,” she reassured. “We have no confirmed record of tiger sharks biting people in Souh Carolina. We usually just aver about four bites in the state a year and most of those, the vast majority of those are not severe bites. They’re just nips on the ankle or foot.”