OCEAN CITY — The satellite tracker on a 13-foot, 1,000-pound tiger shark pinged twice in the span of less than an hour in the Isle of Wight Bay last Friday, causing quite a stir among residents and visitors, but early this week the shark had been detected swimming in the open ocean off the coast of New Jersey.
In May, OCEARCH, a research organization that tracks the movements of big sharks all over the world, tagged the shark off the coast of South Carolina. The shark, named “Septima” in honor of civil rights activist and South Carolina native Septima Poinsette Clark, was fitted with a transmitter that sends signals to a satellite when its dorsal fin breaks the surface.
Septima has been tracked up and down the coast from North Carolina to New Jersey. Since she was tagged in May, Septima has traveled nearly 3,400 miles along the mid-Atlantic region.
Last Friday, the shark’s dorsal fin satellite tag first pinged in the Isle of Wight Bay near the Route 90 bridge around 2:29 p.m. In some cases, a shark breaking the surface for only a split second will not provide a strong enough satellite signal to confirm its location, but when Septima pinged again in the same area around 3:10 p.m. on Friday, it was confirmed with certainty the big predator was where it appeared to be.
By Monday, Septima pinged again off the coast of New Jersey near Toms River and as of mid-week it appeared to be heading south again and pinged off the coast of Atlantic City. It remains uncertain if Septima will make another appearance around the Ocean City area, but her recent history shows she is definitely the wandering sort.
Captain Mark Sampson, the local aficionado on all things related to sharks and founder and director of the Ocean City Shark Tournament, said OCEARCH’s research and tagging work is valid and Septima was likely where she appeared in the bay behind Ocean City last Friday.
“Well, it certainly appears so,” he said. “They can break the surface for just a split second and that can often be enough to get a ping. It appears in this case, the shark broke the surface for several seconds on two different occasions fairly far up into the bay. They are a reliable research group and I’m sure they wouldn’t post the information if they weren’t confident that shark was where it showed it to be.”
When the news spread across the local social media front, many questioned whether a shark that size could roam freely in the shallow waters in the Isle of Wight Bay, but Sampson said this week it was certainly possible and probable. He said it was not unusual for large sharks to venture into the coastal bays, but it was somewhat unusual for a shark the size of Septima.
“From the belly to the top of the dorsal fin might be around three feet for a shark this size, so yes, it certainly could find water deep enough to get that far into the bay,” he said. “As far as how rare this is, I just don’t know. We know sharks are often spotted in the bays and with all of those marinas dumping chum from their fish cleaning stations, it only stands to reason they are in there.”
Sampson said a variety of factors could determine Septima’s potential danger to swimmers.
“It’s a little disconcerting to know there was a shark that big swimming around with all of the jet skiers and recreational boaters and everybody else out there,” he said. “For the swimmers, I’m not sure if it’s better to know or not know.”
Sampson said Septima’s subsequent pings in the open ocean off the coast of New Jersey were good news.
“Certainly around the world tiger sharks have bad reputations, but people around here are typically not their prey,” he said. “It would have to be in a feeding mode and they eat really big things, but then again, people have been known to free dive with them regularly without a cage and without any problems. I think it would be good to know this shark pinged again offshore and everyone is safe and everybody is safe.”
Early media reports of the tiger shark pinging in the Isle of Wight Bay suggested Septima didn’t pose a real threat to swimmers and boaters in the shallow bay, but Sampson said this week those statements were slightly irresponsible.
“It’s a little disingenuous for some of the early media reports to say the shark is probably docile and nothing to worry about,” he said. “There is no cause for alarm, but this is a big tiger shark and we can’t make blanket statements that there is nothing to fear. I know if I was swimming around in the bay and heard this tiger shark had pinged, I’d probably get out of the water.”