Tracking Mary Lee, the Great White Shark

Where does a 16-foot great white shark swim? Anywhere she wants! A satellite tag shows us her choices.

So where’s Mary Lee?

Well, we can tell you that at 1 p.m. Thursday she was in the Atlantic Ocean about 20 miles due south of Myrtle Beach, S.C.   As for where she’ll be over the next few weeks … well, you’ll just have to follow her travels yourself.

Who is Mary Lee?

She’s a shark. A great white shark. A 16-foot great white shark, tagged in September by Ocearch, a non-profit organization devoted to research on “the ocean’s giants.”  Mary Lee was brought up onto Ocearch’s research vessel – a unique 126-foot vessel equipped with a hydraulic lift and research platform – and a tag was placed on her dorsal (top) fin. Now, each time her fin breaks the ocean surface, the tag sends a signal to a satellite that marks the shark’s location. 

According to Ocearch, each tag also “can record various types of information such as temperature, salinity and depth. The tag has a high-powered transmitter that sends data to satellites on a regular basis. The large battery used to power the tag has a switch that turns it on when it breaks the surface, and off when it is submerged to save the battery life.”

You can see where Mary Lee has been swimming thanks to Ocearch’s website, sharks-ocearch.verite.com.

Actually you can use their website to see where a lot of great whites have been swimming. Most are around the southern end of Africa. Ocearch has only tagged two sharks off Cape Cod, both in September: Mary Lee and a shark named Genie, but Genie’s signal – for whatever reason – lasted less than three weeks.

Being able to track great whites is new. Dr. Greg Skomal, a Fairfield native who is Massachusetts’ senior fisheries biologist, spoke here at The Maritime Aquarium back in February 2011 about leading the efforts to tag the great whites that are showing up in increasing numbers off the coast of Cape Cod.  They’re there in the summer to feed on the gray seals, whose populations also are growing.

No one really knows much about great whites – where they go over the course of a day or a week or a year; if they repeat an annual migration route; where they mate; where they give birth. So it’s hoped that tagging the great whites will bring insights into their world.

Mary Lee is giving researchers an idea for where great whites go when they leave the Cape in the fall. After being tagged off Wellfleet on Sept. 18, she began a journey south the very next day and arrived off Savannah, GA, a month later. Since then, she’s hung out between Jacksonville, FL, and Wilmington, NC. 

When will she head back north? Will she come into Long Island Sound? Ocearch’s tag will let us know.

Learn more about all of Ocearch’s efforts at ocearch.org. And you can follow other animals’ migrations from your home computer too, like ….

•  sea turtles –  www.conserveturtles.org/satelliteturtles.php

•  and whales – whale.wheelock.edu

And, although they’re not migrating, they’re always on the move – The Maritime Aquarium’s meerkat cam is at www.maritimeaquarium.org/exhibits-a-animals/meerkat-web-cam


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