What lies beneath is always a surprise to one Marine Biologist

Fishing can be considered a game of cat and mouse. You feel the rush when there is that tug on your line and cannot wait to see what is on the other end.

Now, imagine that feeling if you are a marine biologist on a shark tagging trip.

“The first ones are always one of the most special ones,” said Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist at Coastal Carolina University. “We never know what we are going to pull up when we set a long line. Or what we will see when we are on the way to set a long line.”

Abel,  who has more than 30 years of experience researching sharks, has been shark tagging in Winyah Bay for more than 15 years. He started the program to give his undergraduate and graduate students a chance to study Juvenile Sandbar sharks.

Abel says shark tagging allows researchers the chance to study the movements of these ocean predators and why they like to frequent certain waters over others. The sharks can have a tag placed near the shark’s dorsal fin, or they can have an acoustic telemeter inserted into the abdomen of the shark.

Acoustic telemeters are little pingers that ping every 60 to 90 seconds. For researchers to get information on where the shark is, it has to go by an acoustic receiver.

Abel says Winyah Bay is so diverse and offers many surprises every time they head out to fish.

“What’s always surprising to me is the diversity and abundance of sharks and the size range in such a small ecosystem,” said Abel. “Winyah Bay has a very large watershed. It drains 18-thousand square miles, but the bay itself is not that large for it to have that many sharks and rays inhabiting it.”

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Infographic made by Sharon Tutrone using Animaps.com

Think of Winyah Bay as a hunting ground, where it comes down to the survival of the fittest.

“We have learned there is a mix of sharks within the bay, and they tend to divide themselves so the small ones can find safety and the big ones can find plenty of prey and room to swim around,” said Abel.

So, what is the draw for the sharks?

“We have learned that most of the sharks like high salinity waters, so it’s an estuary,” said Abel.

 

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Students measure the salinity of the water in Winyah Bay.                                           Photo: Sharon Tutrone

Salinity is the amount of dissolved salts that are present in water. It is that salinity that Abel says plays a role in why sharks visit Winyah Bay.

“The sharks will divide themselves based on salinities. Most of the big sharks, the oceanic or the near coastal sharks like high salinities,” said Abel. “Some of the smaller life stages we see will move up the river, and that will protect them from the bigger sharks.”

Salinity levels in Winyah Bay fluctuate because it has four rivers dumping into it.

“When there is a lot of rain in the water shed, the fresh water coming out can be quite significant which can lower the salinities, and not many sharks can live in low salinities,” said Abel.

To follow Abel and his students on their shark tagging trips to Winyah Bay click on the Coastal Carolina Shark Research team page on Facebook.

 

 

Should we be afraid of sharks? No way says Myrtle Beach shark expert

Sharks. For some, the mere word is scary enough to avoid the Atlantic Ocean on a hot summer day.

The fear is real and has a name. The condition is known as galeophobia.

Whether you believe it or not, when you step into the ocean you are literally swimming with the fishes. These ocean predators coexist peacefully with surfers and sun bathers, and chances are you are not even aware of their presence.

In fact, very few are lucky enough to meet one of these majestic marine beasts.

According to Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist at Coastal Carolina University, sharks should be embraced.

“People fear sharks when they should respect them. When you go to the beach you should be comforted knowing there are sharks swimming in the surf line,” said Abel. “A healthy ocean needs its sharks so we shouldn’t fear them.”

Abels says humans are the sharks biggest threat. Humans catch them for their fins, that is used in shark fin soup, or they are caught and used as trophies.

Abel knows what he is talking about; he has been studying sharks for more than 30 years. Every year he holds a semester at sea where students get an up close and personal look at these guardians of the ocean.

Abel started a research program more than 15 years ago that takes a group of undergraduate and graduate marine biology students out to Winyah Bay to study Juvenile Sandbar Sharks.

Abel says most of the time sharks have no interest in humans. Yes, sharks are predators, but none of them have humans as a regular prey on their menu. Sharks prefer smaller fish like squid and shrimp. But Abel says, there are some things you can do to prevent a trip to the hospital.

“Don’t swim at dawn or dusk. That is when many sharks feed,” said Abel. “Avoid swimming near piers where people are fishing and if you see a school of fish, get out of the water.”

What about that fin above the water line, does that mean a shark is coming after you?

“No, that does not mean they are coming after you. Most of the time people see a wave or a dolphin,” said Caroline Collatos, a graduate student in the marine science department. “Sharks rarely do this, and when they do, they may be chasing prey that swam up to the surface.”

Again, there is a small chance that a shark will bite you, but if you do go in the ocean here are some more tips to make that risk even lower.

Sink your teeth into some shark tagging facts as Shark Week approaches

It’s that time of year to feed your shark feeding frenzy appetite. Shark week is just around the corner and for some researchers, studying and tracking sharks happens year-round, not just one week out of the year.

Shark tagging allows researchers the chance to study the movements of these ocean predators and why they like to frequent certain waters over others. The sharks can have a tag placed near the shark’s dorsal fin, or they can have an acoustic telemeter inserted into the abdomen of the shark.

Acoustic telemeters are little pingers that ping every 60 to 90 seconds. For researchers to get information on where the shark is, it has to go by an acoustic receiver.

OCEARCH is one of the most well-known shark tagging groups around. They work mostly with Great Whites and Tiger Sharks. Presently, the group is conducting their 29th exhibition off the Jersey Shore.

Chris Fisher is known for his work with OCEARCH. Since 2007 Fisher has tagged many great whites, who have become local favorites, especially here in South Carolina. Fischer sets up a Twitter handle for all his sharks so they can “communicate with people.” You can access all the shark’s Twitter handles through Fischer’s Twitter account.

One of the most popular sharks that people like to track is Mary Lee. She was tagged in September of 2012 off the coast of Cape Cod. To see her tagging video click here.

According to the global shark tracker, Mary Lee has traveled almost 40,000 miles since she was tagged, many of her travels have taken her off the coast of South Carolina. Through her tag, researchers were able to tell if she was pregnant just by her movements and where she would spend time during certain times of the year.

The tagging process must run efficiently. According to OCEARCH, it should only take 15 minutes to get the shark onboard, tagged and back into the water.

This research is not only happening in the deep depths of the Atlantic Ocean. There are also tagging efforts happening right off the coast of South Carolina. Marine Biologists with Coastal Carolina University focus on the smaller resident sharks that call Winyah Bay home.

Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist with CCU, started the research program more than 15 years ago. He takes a group of undergraduate and graduate marine biology students out to Winyah Bay to study Juvenile Sandbar Sharks.

Caroline Collatos, a graduate student in the marine biology department at Coastal Carolina University, tells us the process to catch a shark is precise. According to Collatos, students bait 25 hooks on a line that is 150 meters long. The line has floats and anchors at both ends. Once the lines are in the water, they soak for 30-45 minutes. The students then hand pull the line in, hoping they have a shark on one of the hooks.

 

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Photo: CCU Shark Research Team Facebook page

Recently the Coastal Carolina Shark research team caught a small spinner shark that was just weeks or months old. The team was able to conclude this by an umbilical scar still visible on the shark.

This catch helped marine biologists determine that Winyah Bay is, in fact, a secondary nursery, meaning it is a place where baby sharks grow up.

Click on the following links for more information on OCEARCH or the Coastal Carolina Shark Research team.

Sharks of Coastal South Carolina. Why is Winyah Bay such a popular spot for these ocean predators?

Many who live in Myrtle Beach have heard of Winyah Bay. It is where the Waccamaw, Pee Dee, Black and the Sampit River all drain into South Carolina.

But did you know it also makes for a great place to raise kids? Shark “kids” that is.

“Winyah Bay is a primary and secondary nursery. A primary nursery is where an animal will go and give birth, and a secondary nursery will be where that baby then grows up,” said Caroline Collatos, a graduate student in the marine science department at Coastal Carolina University.

Collatos believes that Winyah Bay is a secondary nursery for three different species of sharks.

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Baby Blacktip shark caught in   Winyah Bay. Shark was tagged and released.                                Photo: Sharon Tutrone

“The evidence we collected is showing us that this bay provides an area for these juveniles to grow up and hopefully become sexually reproductive and add to the population,” said Collatos.

Sharks move due to the change of season. Some sharks are more tolerant to colder or warmer temperatures which decide when they leave an area.

“Winyah Bay has both cold water and warm water species. In the winter we have two different species that use the bay. They are spiny dogfish and smooth dogfish sharks,” said Collatos. “In the summer, we have four species that use the bay frequently; the most dominant species is the Juvenile Sandbar shark.”

Collatos says a lot of juvenile sharks that grow up in Winyah Bay eventually move out to coastal areas. But they have also seen older sharks make their way into the bay as well.

“We also have a lot of older adult sharks that come into Winyah Bay to feed on smaller sharks or other prey,” said Collatos.

Sharks are not the only mammal that heads to Winyah Bay to mate. Recently the CCU Shark research team caught a female stingray that had two males trying to mate with her as the team brought her in on the fishing line.

So why are the waters of Winyah Bay so attractive to sharks? It is a question Coastal Carolina marine biologists are hoping to answer through their tag and release program.

Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist with CCU, started the research program more than 15 years ago. He takes a group of undergraduate and graduate marine biology students out to Winyah Bay to study Juvenile Sandbar Sharks.

“One of our aims is to simply look at the demographics of shark populations,” said Abel. “What factors influence the presence and absence and the diversity of sharks in ecosystems.”

The process of tracking sharks is tedious and precise. Abel and his students bait 25 hooks on a line that is 150 meters long. The line has floats and anchors at both ends. Once the lines are in the water, they soak for 30-45 minutes. The students then hand pull the line in, hoping they have a shark on one of the hooks.

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Long lines are baited with Mackerel. Photo: Sharon Tutrone

 

“Acoustic telemeters are little pingers,” said Abel. “We make a two-inch incision in the abdomen and put a double A battery-sized instrument inside, sew it back up, and it will ping every 60 to 90 seconds. For us to get information on where the shark is, it has to go by an acoustic receiver. Fortunately, there’s a ray of receivers up and down the coast and worldwide.”

Acoustic tagging allows CCU students to track the movements of return visitors to Winyah Bay.

Besides the tagging trips to Winyah Bay, Dr. Abel takes his students every May to the Shark Lab in Bimini, which is located in the Bahamas. Abel says the students get an up close and personal look at the sharks and the stingrays. Abel says everything they learn in Bimini prepares them for their Winyah Bay tagging trips.

To learn more about the Coastal Carolina shark research team’s findings, click here.

 

With two shark bites near Myrtle Beach, is it safe to go in the ocean? 

It’s a sign summer is here. The smell of salt in the air, children playing on the beach, and shark bites dominating local news headlines.

So far, there have been two shark bites off the coast of Myrtle Beach. The first was last month near Pawleys Island. Investigators say a man was bitten on the foot during a morning swim.

A few weeks later a 36-year-old woman was swimming off the coast of Folly Beach, which is just south of Myrtle Beach when she was bitten on her left foot.

Both victims have recovered.

Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist at Coastal Carolina University, says most of the time sharks have no interest in humans. But he says, there are some things you can do to prevent a trip to the hospital.

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Sign informing swimmers of beach warning flags at 48th Ave.               North in Myrtle Beach.             Photo: Sharon Tutrone

“Don’t swim at dawn or dusk. That is when many sharks feed,” said Abel. “Avoid swimming near piers where people are fishing and if you see a school of fish, get out of the water.”

What about that fin above the water line, does that mean a shark is coming after you?

“No, that does not mean they are coming after you. Most of the time people see a wave or a dolphin,” said Caroline Collatos, a graduate student in the marine science department. “Sharks rarely do this, and when they do, they’re coming to the surface to eat a piece of fish scrap, or they may be chasing prey that swam up to the surface.”

There is a small chance that a shark will bite you, but if you do go in the ocean here are some tips to make that risk even lower.

  1. Swim in a group. Sharks usually bite someone swimming alone.
  2. Don’t swim too far from shore. Doing so places you away from help.
  3. If you are bleeding, don’t enter the water. Sharks can smell blood, and trace it back to its source.
  4. Keep shiny jewelry at home. The reflection of the light looks like shining fish scales.
  5. Don’t swim in waters containing sewage. Sewage attracts bait fish, which attract sharks.

For more beach safety tips click here.

Cue the JAWS music, gifts from the sea are spilling onto our shores

Call it a game of cat and mouse or being in the right place at the right time, but either way you look at it, shark tooth hunters all share a common goal: to find a piece of ocean history.

“Shark’s teeth are more than a collector’s item, they tell a story about each shark that swam in the waters off our coast,” said Peter Brimlow, a shark tooth collector.

Walking the shoreline in Myrtle Beach, it was a cold morning; a winter storm was brewing and the sun was just cresting over the horizon. Brimlow was focused on the sand, carefully looking before taking his next step. He was walking on glass. Each step was so gentle and careful. He didn’t want to miss a tooth waiting to be discovered.

“A friend introduced me to shark tooth hunting several years ago right here in Myrtle Beach,” Brimlow said. “I was addicted to searching for them instantly.”

He said he has been collecting shark’s teeth for several years and has more than 11,000.

For others, shark tooth hunting is “Something to do in between sun-tanning, body-surfing and people-watching,” said Mark Kruea, a shark tooth collector.

Kruea said he has been collecting shark’s teeth for several years and has thousands. He said he got into the hobby because of the thrill of the hunt.

“You know they exist, but can you find them?” Kruea said. “It’s like a miniature treasure hunt. Each discovery is satisfying.”

Even though he has never found a big tooth “The search and the find are satisfying enough,” said Kruea.

Shark tooth hunting is a serious hobby.

It requires getting up sometimes before the sun and hitting the beach during low tide. That is the best time because the tide lines or the lines of debris are exposed. According to Danielle’s Dive Blog, walk that line and look for black triangles. These are the sharks’ teeth.

Brimlow said it’s something about the jet-black shine of the teeth to the thought of where they came from that fuels his passion.

“Were they here offshore or have they traveled the oceans for years and finally presented themselves for me to find,” said Brimlow.

According to chemistry.about.com shark’s teeth start to turn black after being buried in sediments. The teeth  absorb surrounding minerals, turning them from a normal whitish tooth color to black, gray, or tan. The fossilization process takes at least 10,000 years, although some fossil shark’s teeth are millions of years old

Here’s another piece of shark tooth trivia for you. If you do find a tooth, take a close look at it. Look for serrations or little ridges running up and down the side of the tooth.

“Serrations on a side of a tooth tell us that tooth was a shearing tooth,” said Dr. Daniel Abel, a marine biologist at Coastal Carolina University.  “A shark would approach its prey from the bottom, perform a slashing cut into the animal and let it bleed out, then will eat it.”

So, as the tables have turned and we are now hunting the hunter, remember this piece of shark tooth hunting advice. Get out there and start looking for your gift from the sea.