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There’s a secret shark mating site. Does Hilton Head's great white hold the key?

OCEARCH catches and tags ‘Hilton’ off Hilton Head

OCEARCH, a research vessel and at-sea laboratory catches and tags Hilton, a 12-foot male white shark, off the coast of Hilton Head, SC in March 2017.
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OCEARCH, a research vessel and at-sea laboratory catches and tags Hilton, a 12-foot male white shark, off the coast of Hilton Head, SC in March 2017.

A 12-foot great white shark tagged off South Carolina last year is believed to be leading researchers to a previously unknown apex predator mating ground in the North Atlantic.

“It’s the big moment we’ve been waiting for,” said a tweet from OCEARCH, the organization that tagged the shark off Hilton Head last year.

The 1,326-pound shark, named Hilton, arrived in Nova Scotia about 5:30 a.m. Monday for mysterious reasons.

Researchers said Hilton made the same trek up the East Coast last year, and mystified them by not joining other mating sharks in the Cape Cod area, according to a 2017 article in the Chronicle Herald News.

Instead, Hilton spent the mating season off Nova Scotia, leading to suspicions of a second “unexpected” mating location, OCEARCH found founder Chris Fischer said in a tweet.

OCEARCH is hoping to find proof this time around and is putting together an expedition to study the area, according to Twitter posts. The goals including finding and tagging females in the area, so they will reveal where they give birth, Fischer told Florida Today in a July 20 article.

“For millions of years, these things have been a complete mystery,” Fischer told Florida Today. “People haven’t understood where and when they’re mating. Where do they give birth? Where are the babies?”

Hilton was tagged with a satellite transmitter in March of 2017 off Hilton Head, and is 12-feet, 7 inches long, OCEARCH says. Tracking shows Hilton is prone to staying in the warmer waters off the Carolinas and Georgia.

OCEARCH announced over the weekend that scientists “just made a huge breakthrough” by discovering the New York Bight is one of the shark nursery sites that have long eluded researchers, according to a July 20 Facebook post. (The bight is an area of shallow water stretching from New Jersey’s Cape May Inlet to the eastern tip of Long Island.)

Sand tiger sharks in North Carolina and along the broader east coast of the USA help track shark movement and behavior over time.

Thousands of sharks show up along the South Carolina coast in the summer. Here are a few of the species you're most likely to see — and which ones are considered the most dangerous to humans based on past attacks.

Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs
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