Great white shark off Jacksonville Beach

 Great white shark was ‘in the surf break off Jacksonville Beach’

Location of  Mary Lee a Great White Shark

Location of Mary Lee a Great White Shark Brett McBride climbs into the shark lift with Mary Lee, a shark that has been tracked off the First Coast's shores the week of Jan. 8. The great white weighs in at 3,456 pounds is 16½ feet long. Brett McBride climbs into the shark lift with Mary Lee, a shark that has been tracked off the First Coast’s shores the week of Jan. 8. The great white weighs in at 3,456 pounds is 16½ feet long.


A Facebook star named Mary Lee — a giant great white shark whose wanderings are tracked by GPS — apparently made an extremely close and personal visit to Jacksonville Beach in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Ocearch, a shark research group, made this posting on its Facebook page at about that time: “Jacksonville Beach, FL residents and beach users please read. Mary Lee is a 16 1/2 ft, 3,500lbs mature female white shark. Her most recent position is off 6th Ave S and 1st St. S in the surf break off Jacksonville Beach, FL.’”

That will get your attention.

Ocearch founding chairman Chris Fischer was going to bed in Park City, Utah, when an email alert showed him the location of Mary Lee. His group, a nonprofit dedicated to shark preservation, had caught and tagged the giant shark off Massachusetts in September. It had been moving steadily south since then, moving near shore and away, again and again.

Now it had moved really, really close to shore.

“It looked like it was practically in a parking lot in Jacksonville Beach,” he said.

So at 12:46 a.m., Fischer called Jacksonville Beach police — just to let them know. Sgt. Tommy Crumley, the agency’s public information officer, said police took the information seriously. An officer stopped by the lifeguard station in the middle of the night to alert lifeguards there, and police checked the beach to make sure nobody was swimming.

On a cold winter’s night, no one was.

Even so, on Thursday morning, the department sent out a news release saying, “Due to the size of the shark and the potential dangers we are recommending at this time that people stay out of the water until the shark leaves our area.”

The meanderings of Mary Lee have made the shark something of an internet sensation on Ocearch’s Facebook page, which Tuesday afternoon had more than 26,000 “likes” — more than 1,000 over what it had that morning.

A few hours after its first Facebook notice about Mary Lee in the Jacksonville Beach surf, Ocearch posted some slightly more reassuring news: “Mary Lee moves slightly N and a little more offshore. She is off Neptune Beach FL near Jacksonville.”

Later Tuesday morning came more good news: “As of 7:49am EST Mary Lee has moved east, away from the beach.”

And on that path? It takes her closer to another great white named Genie, who’s hanging around farther off the coast of Jacksonville. When an Ocearch vessel captured and tagged Genie, it was 14 feet, 8 inches long and weighed 2,292 pounds, a puny thing compared to Mary Lee.

Ocearch’s website has a “Global Shark Tracker system” page where people can find tagged sharks around the world. Fischer said he hopes that helps scientist research and protect the endangered animals.

He also wants to raise public awareness, while letting people in on what he called a “400 million-year-old mystery” — the location of the ocean’s top predators.

“I’m hoping for less fear and more enlightenment,” he said. “Mary Lee and other great white sharks like this have been making this migration for hundreds of millions of years. These sharks have been swimming up and down your beaches for a long time, and now we know where they are. People are excited to know that Mary Lee is in the neighborhood, doing her great white shark thing.”

Rob Emahiser, a lieutenant in the Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue corps, said lifeguards had not barred swimmers and surfers from the water, since Mary Lee had tracked offshore by early Thursday.

“There’s not enough reason to create hysteria and close the water for a shark that’s offshore,” he said.

Lifeguards will keep an eye out on the website with Mary Lee’s wanderings, Emahiser said. But the information is of limited use, he notes: “We’ll use it. But it really is only useful for the sharks that are tagged.”

George Burgess, a shark expert at the University of Florida, said there’s no doubt Mary Lee has “many colleagues” who remain untagged — though no one knows how many.

He is skeptical of the accuracy of GPS locating, saying readings can be off by a considerable distance. But it’s well known that great whites migrate south in the winter, congregating in the cool — but not cold — water that they like, off the Georgia and North Florida Coast. They’re most likely following right whales, a favored food, he said.

They’re not so interested, however, in humans, said Burgess, who’s director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. He said there has not been a single documented instance in Florida’s recorded history of a great white attacking a human being.

Still, reports of a 3,500-pound shark in the surf will no doubt make many a little more nervous .

Robbie Wannenburg, 21, of Atlantic Beach went surfing at the Jacksonville Beach pier from 7:30 to 10 a.m. Tuesday. Only later did he learn of Mary Lee’s visit to the area.

“I guess I feel pretty lucky, considering it didn’t eat me,” he said. “I was looking at the tracking map later and, well, it’s 12 miles off shore, I might go surfing again.”

That did not happen.

“But my mom said no,” Wannenburg said. “I guess it is pretty scary, right?”



Don’t get bitten by a shark myth

Surfers (L-R) Grant Carter and Pat Hill, are pictured at Dee Why Beach this morning at sunrise before heading out for an early morning surf.

Surfers (L-R) Grant Carter and Pat Hill, are pictured at Dee Why Beach this morning at sunrise before heading out for an early morning surf.

WITH two attacks already and alarms sounding so often it’s reminiscent of the Blitz, beach lovers fear we’re in for another “Summer of the shark”.

Surfer Luke Allan lost a finger and suffered a thigh wound when he was attacked near Port Macquarie on December 28.

Two days later, off-duty life guard Danny Sheather narrowly escaped when a sharkleft a 30cm bite mark his surfboard at Dee Why. But as swimmers ditch their “yummy yellow” board shorts or take a dip with the dolphins, is there any science behind shark myths?


The “one bite” mantra – that sharks make a taste test before moving on – is a favourite of conservationists. But Mr Allan says he was bitten three times and Glen Folkard suffered a sustained attack while surfing at Redhead Beach, Newcastle, in January last year. Some experts believe one lunge by a shark may feature multiple bites. Attacks by mature great whites can feature repeated bites. In some cases, the victim appears to have been eaten.


Not true. Dolphins will confront sharks when they threaten a member of the pod. But it’s much more common for sharks and dolphins to feed together – often they hunt the same prey. Dolphins may be a sign sharks are present rather than a comforting New Age human bodyguard.


“That is bollocks,” CSIRO great white shark expert Dr Barry Bruce said. “The typical white shark you will find in the surf zone in NSW is 2.5m or below, but white sharks feed on seals for only a very small part of the year and it does not become part of their diet until the shark is at least 3m long.”


In 2009 there were three serious attacks in Sydney in three weeks. Five people died in 10 months in WA last year. Clusters do happen. Dr Vic Peddemors, a leading shark attack investigator, said: “We have looked at everything: El Nino, La Nina, water, temps, food sources, the southern ocean oscillation index and nothing really adds up. It’s one of those things yet to be explained.”



The attack on navy diver Paul de Gelder in February 2009 – the first harbour attack in decades – focused attention on the waterway. Some of most horrific attacks in the 1950s and 1960s happened in its placid waters. Then overfishing and pollution cut fish numbers. But banning commercial fishing in the harbour and building of deep water sewage outfalls led to an explosion in marine life. More fish means more sharks. The last fatal harbour attack was in 1963.DON’T SWIM AT DAWN OR DUSK: Dr Bruce is sceptical about the theory that the risk of attack increases at dawn and dusk. “If you look at the shark attack statistics on a time-of-day basis there is a peak in mid-morning and a peak in mid-afternoon and a dip in the middle of the day and a low level of shark attack at dawn and dusk,” he said.



In the NSW shark meshing program, nets are moved among popular beaches. But several recent attacks have happened while the nets were in place. The nets aren’t a barrier across the entire beach, but a series of smaller nets in strategic locations.


Dr Peddemors said: “There is not one recorded instance of dogs swimming with people and a dog rather than the person has been attacked.”


A US Navy report from the 1970s found “a standard yellow life vest occupied by a child dummy was repeatedly attacked by blue sharks. Strikes on a red infant flotation device were few, while a similar black flotation device suffered only two strikes.” This led to surfers and divers coining the term “yummy yellow”. But Professor Nathan Hart from the University of Western Australia found sharks had only one type of “cone cell” responsible for colour vision and are unlikely to be able to perceive a multicoloured world. Sharks are attracted to high contrast rather than colours.


Despite many surfers now declining a morning coffee before hitting the waves, there’s no evidence peeing makes you a more likely target.