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.

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.