fish T A L E S
FISHING for RESEARCH A project to tag sharks off Shackleford Banks landed some interesting and dangerous species.
BY P E T E R P E R S C H BAC H E R
The Research Vessel (RV) Machapunga was the largest, at
47 feet, and best built Harkers Island vessel I have seen and
been on. She served the research community of the UNC
Institute of Marine Science in Morehead City for many
years. The Machapunga was beamy with a shallow draft,
perfect for studies in the nearshore marine habitats and
for the longest shark research study, started by Dr. Frank
Schwartz in 1972 and still going.
I joined his Cape Fear River study in 1975 and helped
with the twice-monthly shark longlining off Shackleford
Banks. Dr. Schwartz was especially interested in sharks and,
at the end of his life (2018), of stingrays and differences in
their dangerous spines. He was fearless to a fault and related
harpooning a manta ray and being pulled almost to the
foaming reef when the line separated.
Shark fishing off Shackleford Banks was a day on the
salty main, almost a pleasure cruise. But we were there to
catch, measure and tag sharks. And we did, many more and
larger then than now, unfortunately (for sharks at least). We
used trawled bait and 6-inch hooks spaced on a suspended
longline. While they soaked, we ate the best ham and cheese
sandwiches I have ever had.
After an hour, we started to haul in the 100 hooks. When
a shark was on, we called for Otis, the mild teddy bear of
a captain, to cut the engines. Large sharks would visibly
move the line, and the more the line was skewed the more
anticipation for a large shark. In it came, usually thrashing
Dr. Frank Schwartz, right, of the University of North Carolina
Institute of Marine Sciences, works on a shark sampling trip
in 2010. Data collection has been ongoing since he started
the research program in 1972.
In mid-April 2022 three large great white sharks were detected off the coast of North Carolina. Pinging
on April 9, one of these, Mahone, measured 13 feet, 7 inches and weighed 1,701 pounds when tagged in
Nova Scotia in October 2020, making it the largest tagged by reasearch agency OCEARCH in Canadian
waters. Come with us on a tale of pioneering shark research from the 1970s.
COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA