Fishing guide and shark conservationist Chip Michalove has spent over twenty years exploring the waters around Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, but the last few weeks will likely go down as his most memorable. Earlier this month, Michalove, who runs Outcast Sport Fishing, received reports of a dead whale floating off the South Carolina coast. Certain the carcass would attract a bevy of hungry sharks, he readied a crew and headed out in search of the unfortunate cetacean. "So much work went into finding this whale, and the payoff was one I’ll never forget," Michalove wrote on Instagram. "From 9am till we left, it was one great white shark after another."

Michalove, who catches and tags white sharks for a long-term research project headed up by Dr Greg Skomal of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, was in his element. Great whites, tiger sharks, sandbar sharks and even a bluefin tuna all showed up for the feast. "Lots of catching, tagging, watching, absorbing it in," Michalove summarised on Instagram. "Can’t describe what a chapter this was, unforgettable." Several of the sharks were fitted with satellite trackers to aid researchers in learning more about their ecology, behaviour and distribution. (It's worth noting that Michalove has many years experience catching sharks and makes every effort to minimise stress on the animals during tagging).

While the whale provided a sizeable meal for many ocean predators in the area, the tale of how it ended up floating off the South Carolina coast is a tragic one. According to Michalove, the cetacean – a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale – became tangled in crab-trapping gear further north and was carried by currents to an area near Myrtle Beach. Entanglement in fishing equipment along with vessel strikes continue to pose a serious threat to the survival of the species. Estimates carried out in 2018, put the number of mature individuals at fewer than 250 and the the total population is believed to have declined by approximately 15% since 2011. 

This whale's demise, while dreadful and unnecessary, was welcomed by the opportunistic ocean predators that were able to gorge themselves for several days. The number of white sharks was not officially recorded, but Michalove puts the estimate at around 150 individuals.