Clockwise from left: The University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Sciences conducted research
aboard the RV Machapunga, a 47-foot Harkers Island vessel. John Wegener was one of her captains.
Staff from N.C. Sea Grant gathers on the stern deck in 1985.
like a dog. In my
youth I was bare-foot
but knew to
watch the shark’s
and no accidents
and tagged them
through the dorsal
fin after getting
the hook out.
Then it was, “back
it up Oty.” The
majority were less
than 5 feet and
snouts, and gray.
between the more
blacknose were black tips and fin sizes and positions.
We also tagged the snaggled-toothed sand tiger with fish-hook
teeth for fish diets, the odd-looking hammerheads, and
the largest of the catches while I was onboard, a tiger shark.
This shark is the second largest non-filtering feeding shark
in our waters, behind only the white. The largest of any kind
are the uncommon whale and basking sharks. The biggest on
record in the Cape Fear River was a stranded 40-foot whale
shark at the inlet in 1934.
When we boarded the tiger shark, we had to use the winch.
The shark was over 7 feet — large to us, but well under the
North Carolina record of about 12 feet. What is unique about
the tiger shark is its spotting and stripes. But more impres-sive
is that the body is basically a broad head with saw teeth
attached to a long tail. The business end means business.
All the live sharks went back into the water. If dead, they
went to the collection at the lab. We never saw the great whites
that patrol our shores and the mouth of the Cape Fear; many
followed by their unique signals when their sonic tags surface.
But the occasional half shark pulled up could only have been
chomped by another much, much larger.
To add to these ominous unseen sharks, the movie Jaws
came out the year I joined the study. It took a long time to
look at the ocean in the same peaceful way again.
COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA INSTITUTE OF MARINE SCIENCES
COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA
INSTITUTE OF MARINE SCIENCES
COURTESY OF N.C. SEA GRANT