Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Massive 15-foot great white shark pinged near Charleston, expected to pass by Cape Fear coast

A 15-foot, 2,100-pound white shark named Lana, pictured, was tagged by OCEARCH scientists last fall off the coast of Nova Scotia. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy OCEARCH)
A 15-foot, 2,100-pound white shark named Luna, pictured, was tagged by OCEARCH researchers last fall off the coast of Nova Scotia. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy OCEARCH)

Luna, the second-largest white shark tagged in the northwest Atlantic by one group of researchers, may be headed back north to Nova Scotia.

SOUTHEASTERN U.S. — A great white named Luna is making her first migration loop as a tagged shark, heading north from her last known location east of Charleston and expected to pass by the Cape Fear coast soon — if she hasn’t already.

“How much she pings along the way remains to be seen since we only get pings from her when her dorsal fin with the tracker on it breaks the surface of the water,” OCEARCH spokesperson John Kanaly said.

He said that OCEARCH, a non-profit outfit led by explorer Chris Fischer aboard the M/V OCEARCH, tagged Luna last fall off the coast of Nova Scotia. Fischer’s mission is to collect scientific data on large apex predators and “keystone” species like the olive ridley sea turtle.

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Luna is the second-biggest white shark we’ve ever tagged in the northwest Atlantic,” Kanaly said. “Only Mary Lee, at 16 feet and 3,456 pounds, was bigger.”

Luna was last tagged on May 9 in an area known as the Charleston Bump, a deepwater bottom feature 80 to 100 miles off the South Carolina coast. Another white shark named Katharine, weighing 2,300 pounds and 14 feet in length, was pinged two days later just east of Luna’s location.

He said OCEARCH expects Luna to continue her trajectory northward from the Bahamas (pinged there in January) and cruise by the North Carolina coast on her a migration loop back to Nova Scotia.

"Captain Brett" handles a great white named Caroline, named after the Carolinas. The shark was pinged just offshore Edisto Beach near Charleston on May 9, the same day Luna was located. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy OCEARCH)
“Captain Brett” handles a great white named Caroline, named after the Carolinas. The shark was pinged just offshore Edisto Beach near Charleston on May 9, the same day Luna was located. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy OCEARCH)

We haven’t tracked Luna for a full migration loop yet so we don’t know when she usually starts making aggressive moves north,” Kanaly said. “Based on other white sharks we’ve tracked, we would expect her to start making her way up to Nova Scotia soon and be there late summer and early fall.” 

Luna’s trajectory shows various winter stops just offshore of New England’s coast before making a wide, sweeping turn into deeper waters before approaching the Bahamas. She is now swimming in the more shallow waters over the continental shelf, which narrows as it approaches Wilmington and further north to Cape Lookout and the Pamlico Sound.

According to Kanaly, OCEARCH researchers generally see adult females spend more time farther offshore than males, who tend not to wander too far past the continental shelf.

“We suspect females make big sweeping trips out into the open ocean to gestate,” Kanaly said. “It’s hard to tell if that is what’s going on with Luna right now given that she returned back to the continental shelf pretty quickly.”

Luna's trajectory since it was tagged in Nova Scotia in October 2018. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy OCEARCH)
Luna’s trajectory since it was tagged in Nova Scotia in October 2018. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy OCEARCH)

Kanaly said it appears Luna had taken a path south that kept her just east of the warmest part of the Gulf Stream, allowing her to stay in water with temperatures more preferable to white sharks.

“We haven’t had a chance to track Luna for a full year yet so we are still trying to get a grasp on her movements,” Kanaly said. “Adult females can have 18-month migration loops.”

He said it was difficult to estimate just how far offshore she will be when she passes the Cape Fear coast, as detections from previous white sharks in the area have shown them to swim both close to shore and in deeper waters.

According to the group’s website, research expeditions are conducted on the M/V OCEARCH, which serves as an at-sea laboratory. The vessel uses a 75,000-pound capacity hydraulic platform designed to safely lift sharks, whales, and other mature marine animals out of the ocean so that researchers can gather samples and tag the creatures in 15 minutes.

“OCEARCH enables leading researchers and institutions to generate previously unattainable data on the movement, biology, and health of sharks to protect their future while enhancing public safety and education,” according to the non-profit’s Facebook page.

To accomplish this it collects “open source research”, allowing it to share data in real-time through the Global Shark Tracker, which also tracks sea turtles, dolphins, various sharks species, whales, seals, and alligators all over the globe.


Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com

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