Healthy Oceans in Myrtle Beach Means protecting sharks

Say the word “Shark” while at the beach and you will have a frenzy of people trying to get out of the water.

But the next time you visit a beach try to open your eyes to a different view of sharks.

When it comes to these ocean predators, it is vital to protect them. Think of them as the janitors to our oceans. They keep them healthy and clean.

But humans are not making their jobs any easier. Sharks face many dangers. The most significant threat is ocean pollution, recently reviewed extensively on this site in a previous article here.

The second danger is human interaction. When sharks are eliminated, the marine ecosystem loses its balance.

Sharks play a significant role in the oceans. Sharks are at the top of the food chain in virtually every part of every ocean. In that position, they keep populations of other fish healthy and in proper proportion for their ecosystem.

That is why many shark experts say we should respect them.

For more information on protecting sharks just visit the Coastal Carolina Shark Research Team Facebook page.

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How Ocean Pollution is Injuring South Carolina’s Marine Animals

Our world is a trashy society, and that is causing big problems to oceans and the marine life that call it home.

“I hope we would be more enlightened about throwing trash in the oceans,” said Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist at Coastal Carolina University. “This was something that was done in the 40s, 50s, and 60s; then the environmental movement was supposed to educate people.”

According to the Ocean Conservancy, more marine debris was found in the United States than any of the other 65 countries in 2007.

Roland Geyer tallied how much plastic people have manufactured since its invention and he came up with more than eight-point-three billion metric tons. Geyer says that can cover the size of Argentina, which is the eighth-largest country in the world.

That translates to an estimated 14 billion pounds of trash -most of it plastic -is dumped in the world’s oceans every year.

Abel says that plastic trash is causing big problems for the sharks and sea turtles that swim off the coast of Myrtle Beach.

Plastics don’t usually break down entirely, but they break down into small components which organisms ingest. There are chemicals in there, and plastics themselves can block digestive tracts,” said Abel.

According to a study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin about the impacts of plastics entering whales’ diets, found that since plastics cannot be digested, it sits in the stomach without being able to go anywhere.

This can affect more than 600 species of marine animals.

Caroline Collatos, a graduate student at Coastal Carolina University, says she has seen first-hand the damage plastics can cause.

“Both of my field seasons so far I have seen direct evidence of plastic physically harming and cutting into sharks,” said Collatos.

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Juvenile Sandbar Shark with plastic embedded in its neck.
Photo Courtesy: Dr. George Boneillo, Marine Biologist at Coastal Carolina University

Last year Collatos and her team caught two sharks that were suffering from plastic wounds. One shark, a female black tip, had the plastic cord wrapped around her neck. Collatos says it cut her so deep the muscle was showing.

Collatos believes this shark was already halfway through her healing period when she was caught.

“Sharks can be very resilient when it comes to wounds, and they have a very fast and effective healing process,” said Collatos. “This shark was halfway through her original healing period, so her original wounds must have been much worse than what we saw.”

A few weeks later a female Juvenile Sandbar shark was caught. That shark was also suffering from plastic injuries. This time it was plastic cord used to wrap around a box that cut into this shark’s fifth gill.

Both plastics were removed from each shark; they were tagged and released.

Abel says the sharks are incredibly lucky they were caught.

“We were able to save both sharks, but they would have certainly died within weeks if we had not caught it on a long line and removed the strap,” said Abel.

According to the State of the Oceans Summit, it is estimated that 90 percent of the world shark population has disappeared in the last 50 years. The reason is that of the trash accumulation in the waters.

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   Female Juvenile Sandbar Shark, tagged and released in Winyah Bay.                                  Photo: Sharon Tutrone

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 opportunity 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.

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To see the possible shark path of one of the sharks tagged in Winyah Bay, click on the picture above

Winyah Bay is a prime location to go shark tagging because it has a huge watershed. It drains 18-thousand square miles, with four different rivers dumping into the Bay. It is also the primary pathway to the Atlantic Ocean.

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Four rivers that flow into Winyah Bay.
Infographic made using Animaps.

Many fishing vessels, sharks, and sea turtles all share this open water. The increase in congestion means more pollution, and sharks are not the only animals at risk.

How Ocean Pollution is Injuring South Carolina's Marine Animals

Sea turtles also suffer dangerous consequences from ocean debris.

“Sea turtles have a really small brain, and they eat a lot of things that look like trash. They will eat a lot of jellies and fish and so they will mistake trash for their prey,” said Ann Wilson, park ranger. “Their brains are so little they won’t learn from their mistakes.”

Wilson works at Myrtle Beach State Park and says a lot of the trash that ends up in the ocean begins at the beach.

“It is because of our picnics, or what we take to a fishing pier. Even out on the roadway with wind and then it blows out towards the ocean,” said Wilson.

But Wilson feels fishermen pose the biggest threat to our sea turtles.

“To me, fishing line is a really slow death. As an animal keeps growing it’s going to keep strangling and strangling. It’s not going to be a quick easy death,” said Wilson.

When a sea turtle gets caught in fishing line, that is where the biologists at the South Carolina Aquarium come into play. They nurse these injured animals back to health.

“We see plastic ingestion, many of our turtles will eat the plastic out in the wild or pass it in their tank or pass it while they are here in rehab,” said Katelyn McGlothlin, a sea turtle biologist at the South Carolina Aquarium. “We had two patients we had to do surgery on to remove that plastic, which was fishing line that the animal had ingested. It was wrapped around her neck and front left flipper.”

McGlothin says that many of their patients who have ingested plastic will pass it on their own, and will spend seven to nine months in their aquarium recovering.

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A baby blacktip shark caught on a long line. It was tagged and released in Winyah Bay.
Photo: Sharon Tutrone

While some work daily to save the lives of these marine animals, there are others who are not aware of the dangers plastics pose to sharks or turtles.

“It’s very disturbing I honestly did not realize that was happening and that was going on with the animals,” said Loes Muller, beachgoer.

Muller says she is better educated now since seeing pictures of sharks with plastic wrapped around their necks. She says she will help educate others enjoying the beach to make sure everyone does their part to save marine life.

“I feel a lot of people don’t realize what they are doing and how it is affecting the animals out in the ocean,” said Muller.

According to the Marine Conservation, we should treat our oceans as our life support. To survive, we all need healthy oceans.

Therefore, those who live near beaches or visit them can make a difference when it comes to taking out the trash.

“Don’t use a straw at a local restaurant and keep reusable bags in your car,” said Collatos.

For more tips on how you can reduce ocean pollution, visit Greenpeace.org.

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 animal 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.