BonnethdShark“Will we see a shark?”

We are often asked this question just prior to launching our kayak trips in our local waters. We need to answer this query carefully, as it is sometimes made with a trembling voice.

The reply, “Only if we’re lucky!”, accompanied by a bright smile usually works long enough to actually get them in the kayak, because we know if we can just get them out there everything will change for them . . . shark re-education 101 has just begun!

Over the years, sharks have suffered from a PR problem, which is unfortunate, as they are one of the most fascinating animals we see on our waters. Sharks had already been swimming the world’s oceans for 200 million years when the first dinosaurs began to roam the earth. They are graceful wanderers, covering hundreds or thousands of miles a year. Many give live birth. Individuals return to the same tidal creeks (our creeks!) year after year, sometimes for decades. So why do we hate them so?!

Well, Jaws and Sharknados didn’t help, but we are seeing an increase in people’s comfort level with, and indeed empathy for, sharks. After the report of the capture and “drowning” of a 700 lb. female tiger shark off of SC’s coast last year, a surprising number of comments made on the reporting site were pro-shark. And witness the popularity of Mary Lee, a 3500 lb., 16 foot great white shark that has been visiting Beaufort County over the past few years (she even has her own Facebook page! I think for many of us, just knowing these large, wild animals are out there satisfies the part of us that loves wild things and wild places. They have to be out there.

So, back to our nervous guest. The kayaks are quiet and close to the water as we ride the tide around a bend in the Beaufort River. We tell her to scan the edge, the junction where the water meets the pluff mud, to keep a sharp eye out for a dorsal fin. We drift along a while, and then the stillness is punctuated by a joyful, “I see one!”. If it’s between May and October, she probably just spotted a Bonnethead shark, slowly swimming along the edge of the marsh in the shallows, searching for shrimp and crabs. Since it’s swimming in the shallows, the dorsal fin is forced above the surface of the water, and that is all we will see of it due to the opaqueness of our summer waters. Our guest, once afraid, is now energized by the search for and then spotting of this elusive animal. And that’s the whole point of getting out there. Step away from the device. Lean away from the comfort zone. Paddle to a place you’ve often gazed upon but have never visited. And while you’re out there, say hello to a shark for us. Yeah, you’ll see one.

Kim Gundler is co-owner/operator of Beaufort Kayak Tours along with her husband David. They lead interpretive kayak tours on the waters of Beaufort County.