While hunting the high side of the high tide line on Monday, shuffling through foreshore sands blown dry by recent heavy winds, I found a small tiger shark tooth and was reminded of an experience last summer.
Schools of fish headed south in the surf and I stood facing the horizon in water no deeper than three feet. There was little wind and the waves were nearly non-existent, so standing without bobbing like a cork was easy. Globular dark patches in which smallish fish amassed passed one after the other and it was enjoyable watching the fish scatter and occasionally break the surface.
One of those schools headed straight for me. The problem with little fish swimming parallel to the coast is that bigger fish are usually following them and sharks follow those bigger fish. I stood still as the school neared.
Beneath the glob? Well, that was a bit worrisome. A six-foot sushi swallower shadowed the school and its coloring was all too familiar. Grayish brown with dark, vertical stripes along the sides. My perception may have been distorted by the sun’s surface-piercing rays, but I’m 95 percent sure it was a tiger shark. A pup, really.
It lurked beneath the school, nearly stationary. Sea tigers have a distinctive snout. Wide and blunt. But I wasn’t concentrating on its grill. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t getting closer to me. It was no more than 15-feet away at one point. What a treat for a shark-aholic with no desire to recover.
Tiger sharks are among the requiem shark family. They’re migratory, live-bearing sharks that prefer warm waters. The loners’ wide-ranging diet includes seals, fish, squid, sea snakes, dolphin and turtles. And, yeah, they do visit here during warmer months.
A couple old salts told me on the Springmaid Pier that they saw them from time-to-time. Anglers caught a 14-foot sand tiger three miles off the coast last year. In June 1964, Walter Maxwell landed a 1,780 pound tiger shark of roughly the same length while fishing from the Cherry Grove Fishing Pier. I believe that’s still a world record.
I’m not trying to scare anyone in writing this. Just the opposite. All kinds of sharks swim off the Grand Strand. There’s never been a fatal attack here to my knowledge and your chances of being bitten by the smallest of sharks are very slim. Stay clear of fish schools and enjoy the surf when visiting.
Spring will be here before we know it and I can’t wait to go for a swim.
Sources: postandcourier.com and Wikipedia.org