Great White Sharks Migrate Past the Outer Banks

Section of an OCEARCH map showing some of the sharks that have pinged off the Outer Banks.
Section of an OCEARCH map showing some of the sharks that have pinged off the Outer Banks.

We’ve seen a couple of headline in the past two weeks about how Great White Sharks are swarming to the waters off the Outer Banks. It’s based on the tagged sharks that OCEARCH has been tracking.

OCEARCH is an oceanographic research organization that tags a number of species, including whales and tiger sharks, but the great white sharks are the attention getters.

What’s happening off the Outer Banks coast—and yes there are great white sharks there—are two factors coming together.

First of all, great white sharks have always been off the coast of North Carolina and at this time of the year they are more numerous. The reason is simple. They’re migrating, swimming from the cold waters off Canada to the warmer waters of Florida and even into the Caribbean.

The reason they seem so suddenly numerous is that OCEARCH has been continually tagging great white sharks off Nova Scotia for the past few years, there are more than every tagged, so more than every ping when they come to the surface.

What is happening is a very natural part of the Atlantic Ocean ecosystem.

For the most part, great whites stay at least a few miles off shore. Not always. There have been a few instances where a shark will send a signal from one of the Outer Banks sounds—usually Pamlico.

There was recently a false ping—not sure how that happened—placing Cabot, a 533 pound great white almost in the Pamlico River.

That would have been remarkable. Great white sharks cannot survive in fresh water and that far from Oregon Inlet, or any inlet, the water is considered fresh. But as it turns out, it was a false reading. 

Cabot sent a good strong signal from just south of Oregon Inlet, in the ocean, to set things straight.

The Outer Banks environment is fascinating. Plan your stay with Joe Lamb, Jr. & Associates to learn about the beauty of the Outer Banks.

Sea Cows, Sharks and Storms, Oh My!

Stranded sea cow on a Core Banks barrier island.

It’s been an interesting week here on the Outer Banks. Right now there’s the first of the true nor’easters of the season moving in and it looks as though it’s going to be a heck of a storm.

A great white shark pinged fairly far west of Oregon Inlet.

But we’ll start with the coolest story of all—the sea cows.

Ok, they’re just cows, but given how remarkable their story of survival is, maybe sea cow is the right word.

When the 8’ mini-tsunami swept across Cedar Island, it took with it a lot of feral and wild animals, including 28 horses and most of a herd of wild cattle that live on the island.

There was little hope that any of the animals would or could survive. The horses didn’t. And the thought was the cattle didn’t either. And most probably didn’t.

But earlier this week, just south of Portsmouth Island on the norther end of the Core Banks one of the wild herd was spotted. And when park personnel went to investigate—it’s on NPS property—two more were discovered, munching away on sea oats and sea grass. 

The NPS is planning on sedating them and returning them to Cedar Island. The barrier islands of Core Banks are very unstable.

The Shark. Cabot the Shark.

It seems Cabot, at 533 pound male great white shark that has been tagged, pinged pretty far west of Oregon Inlet. Actually he was a couple of miles into the Pamlico River.

There’s a couple of things about Cabot being where he was that is a bit odd. 

He’s really active and moving very quickly. On Wednesday evening he pinged in the ocean east of Duck. By yesterday evening he was in the Pamlico River. To reassure anyone who is concerned about an encounter with Cabot, his last ping was this evening (Friday) east of Avon.

Most odd though, great white’s very rarely venture into fresh water, and that far west of Oregon Inlet, the water is fresh. They need salt water for their survival, so there’s probably a good reason why Cabot didn’t stay in Pamlico Sound very long.

And then there’s the nor’easter. The winds are picking up pretty well, and it looks as though we’ll have some overwash in areas prone to it. 

Should be interesting.

But then it’s always interesting on the Outer Banks. Plan your stay with Joe Lamb, Jr. & Associates and see for yourself how interesting the Outer Banks really are.

Whales, Sharks Swim Past Outer Banks

Hal, a 12'6" great white shark named after the people of Halifax, Nova Scotia is tagged by an OCEARCH scientist. Hal recently pinged off the Outer Banks coast.
Hal, a 12’6″ great white shark named after the people of Halifax, Nova Scotia is tagged by an OCEARCH scientist. Hal recently pinged off the Outer Banks coast.

It’s migration time out in the Atlantic Ocean off the Outer Banks. We had some whales—probably humpback—feeding within 100 yards of the Kitty Hawk shoreline on Monday. Over the weekend, three tagged great white sharks pinged a few miles off the coast.

it’s a typical pattern of life in the sea. There’s a tendency to think of sea life as relatively stationary, living in one area for their lifespan

That however, is not the case. Many, if not most, species of fish and mammals that live in the ocean are migratory.

Humpback whales migrate in the winter to the Caribbean to mate and give birth. That’s a two migration cycle. The humpback whale gestation period is 11 months so females breed one year, returning the following year to give birth.

The whales seen off the Outer Banks coast at this time of the year, are returning to Maine, where scientist have determined most of the East Coast humpback whales live.

The sharks that pinged offshore were tagged by OCEARCH, an organization that has has made a science of studying and tracking sharks The shark names are  Jefferson, Cabot and Hal, All three were tagged in 2018 off Nova Scotia.

Like humpback whales, great white sharks are highly migratory. Although they have some ability to withstand cold temperatures and water, they are a cold blooded species and prefer warmer waters—which is why they left Nova Scotia and headed south.

As ocean temperatures rise, they head north to the fertile feeding grounds off the Canadian maritimes.

The sharks are all male and range in size from 9’8” to 12’7”.

Don’t worry though…the waters of the Outer Banks are safe. Stop by for a visit with Joe Lamb, Jr. & Associates.

Hilton the Shark Heads North from Outer Banks

The track of Hilton the Great White Shark since he was tagged in March of this year.
The track of Hilton the Great White Shark since he was tagged in March of this year.

Hilton the Great White Shark seems to have passed the Outer Banks by. Around 2:00 p.m. he pinged about 15 or 20 miles off Kill Devil Hills.

Hilton was tagged earlier this year off Hilton Head. He’s a 1250 pound shark. It’s difficult to say how old he is, but at that size, he’s probably just passing his teenage years as sharks go.

Shark Migration

He seems to be heading north, which would be consistent with studies of Atlantic Great White Sharks that have been done.

They tend to summer between Massachusetts and New Jersey then head to Florida for the winter. It would appear he is a little behind schedule for what is typically seen for Great Whites, but the Atlantic species have not been studied as extensively as their Pacific counterparts.

The Other Pinger

By comparison, Katherine the Great White Shark has been tracked since she was tagged off Cape Cod in 2013 and she has shown herself to be a world traveler. She has traveled from the Caribbean to the Grand Banks of Canada.

Katherine is much larger shark than Hilton—about 2300 pounds and measures a little over 14’.

This year she toured the waters of Bermuda before heading west. Her most recent ping was just off the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula.

Katherine has been a visitor to Outer Banks waters, usually in the winter. If that is the case, she is probably heading back to the warmer waters of Florida and the Caribbean.

The pings are created when the shark breaks the surface for 90 seconds, allowing three pings that will fix the location.

The sharks are tagged by OCEARCH, an international organization who has been studying tiger and great white sharks, hoping to help with conservation efforts.