ASBURY PARK, N.J. — Mary Lee, the 16-foot, 3,456-pound great white shark, is back in the waters off the New Jersey coast, but how long she will be here, what she's here for or where she's going is a hypothetical guess.
All researchers know for sure is that she's a shark, acting well, like any other shark in the ocean would act.
OCEARCH researchers, the group that placed a global positioning satellite tag on her in 2012, are playing close attention to her movements to try to understand more conclusively the behavior of an apex predator.
"What we've learned is she likes to move back and forth a lot between habitats. More than was originally thought," said Jim Gelsleichter, a marine biologist from the University of North Florida and an OCEARCH collaborating scientist.
Since her tagging off Cape Cod in 2012, Mary Lee has traveled nearly 24,000 nautical miles on several East Coast migrations from Massachusetts to Florida, from Florida to Long Island, back to Florida, and now back to New Jersey.
The path that Mary Lee has traveled is known thanks to OCEARCH's Global Shark Tracker.
This is the first time since the tag was placed on her dorsal fin, however, that she has come north in the fall.
She arrived here Wednesday evening and was just a couple miles off the coast of Long Beach Island on Friday. There's also a good possibility she is not the only great white here right now.
"White sharks are relatively solitary species,” said Gelsleichter, whose primary interest is the reproductive biology of sharks. “We don't tend to think of them as schooling, but they do tend to aggregate in areas. If she's here, that's a good indication there are other white sharks around."
Only a week ago, Mary Lee was was swimming off North Carolina within a few miles of Katharine, another OCEARCH-tagged great white shark.
While Katharine, who is more than 14 feet long and weighs some 2,300 pounds, went south and is now off South Carolina, Gelsleichter hypothesizes that Mary Lee could be heading north to Cape Cod to group with other sharks, hunting seals.
"She's bright enough to have regularity in her feeding patterns," he said.
Or she could in be New Jersey to give birth, also known as pupping.
"The New York-New Jersey area is considered to be a pupping ground," he said.
Great white sharks deliver their pups in the fall or spring, he said, following a 16- to 18-month gestation period. If Mary Lee is not pupping, she could be here to breed.
"We don't have any reproductive data on Mary Lee, we're flying blind. But (since) she's been tagged three years ago, she's in the range of at least one gestational cycle," Gelsleichter said, adding that female white sharks typically heal for a year after giving birth.
One thing Glesleichter knows with certainty is that Mary Lee can survive in about 55 degree water temperature because of the great white sharks ability to regulate their body heat.
"They're endothermic. That means they can build up heat in their body," he said.
That means Mary Lee could be here for a while this autumn. But again, it's a hypothetical guess.
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