Mary Lee, a two-ton great white shark with a tracking device bolted to her dorsal fin, swam into the Cape Fear region Thursday, heading first north into the mouth of the Cape Fear River before veering east. The most recent ping, transmitted around 1:30 p.m., placed the shark about a mile off the North Carolina coast, southeast of Southport.
Though the shark’s path seems a bit scattered, it’s likely she simply headed to the river waters to feed before heading back out to sea, said Paul Barrington, director of husbandry and operations at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
“The mouths of all these river inlets is a migratory route of a lot of in-shore fishes, so there’s a tremendous amount of food supply,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that she showed up there.”
But the amount of tracking data available for Mary Lee was surprising to Barrington. According to Ocearch, the nonprofit organization that tagged the 16-foot shark in September, Mary Lee must break the surface of the water for her tracking device to register location data. To date, Mary Lee has posted hundreds of tracking points – impressive for an animal that doesn’t need to surface in order to breathe.
“It’s a fish and it utilizes the entire water column. It’s just fortunate that this animal is spending so much time at the surface,” Barrington said. “What’s most surprising is how active this animal is. It traveled a huge distance just overnight, and to have it show up in the mouth of the Cape Fear River is very exciting to me.”
But not everyone was thrilled with Mary Lee’s presence. Inman Campbell, shop manager and instructor at Scuba-Now in Wilmington, acknowledged that a great white shark is one of several species he’d prefer not to see on a dive. But he said the idea shouldn’t dissuade residents from enjoying area beaches.
“I wouldn’t be too freaked out. It’s just this time of year, they love the 60-degree water temperature,” Campbell said. “I dive almost every day, and if I saw a great white, I would just surface and get out of the water.”
Barrington was more enthusiastic, saying he’d happily take to the water in search of the shark if chances were better that he’d actually be present when she surfaced next.
“I’d like to go out in my kayak,” he said, “but I know the odds are slim that I’d be able to find her.”
For those interested in following the shark’s path, go online to http://sharks-ocearch.verite.com/