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Tracked shark passes close to Assateague, heads north

(May 8, 2015) Several species of sharks are common in the waters surrounding Ocean City and have been long before this stretch of beach was ever populated.

But of the possibly thousands of sharks that have passed by on their annual north-south seasonal cycle, only a few have been tracked both coming and going.

The most recent of these is the Great White shark, Mary Lee, which was outfitted with a transmitter by the nonprofit research organization OCEARCH in Cape Cod, Mass. in 2012.

The transmitter will signal, or “ping” whenever her dorsal fin breeches the water’s surface. Her movements are tracked and are available to the public via www.ocearch.com, or through their free phone app.

Mary Lee is an impressive example of a mature carcharodon carcharias, a Great White, weighing in excess of 3,500 pounds and measuring 16 feet in length.

She came within about four miles of the Maryland/Virginia border of Assateague Island last week. Then she turned south, deciding for a time, that she likes the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge better, and patrolled those waters for a while.

On Tuesday she curiously pinged simultaneously on the eastern and western shores of Chincoteague Island at 8:12 a.m., the marker immediately preceding that signal was located in Chincoteague Bay about 30 minutes before.

As of Wednesday morning, she has turned east and began heading north, roughly halfway between Route 611 leading onto the island and the Maryland/Virginia border, but miles from shore. She was last tracked in this particular part of the ocean, still miles from shore, in 2013.  If she follows the same route she did in 2013, she will head north until she is well clear of Maryland.

While Mary Lee has been here before, and presumably, will visit again, looking at her map it’s clear she greatly prefers more southern waters. She’s completed two massive circuits of a course spanning from Cape Cod to Bermuda but appears to prefer the area between Wilmington, N.C. and Jacksonville, Fla.

She’s covered almost 20,000 miles since she was tagged.

Another shark, Katharine a 14-foot 2,300 pound Great White, made a similar pass to Mary Lee’s in September 2014. However, once she hit the area about halfway between Route 611 and the inlet, but much farther out to sea, she apparently had a better idea, turned south and headed east for quite some time. She disappeared for more than a month, with her last reported ping off the coast of Nag’s Head, S.C. in early April, and had returned to her old stomping grounds, if a bit farther off the coast on May 2.

Meanwhile, Septima, a 1,000 pound tiger shark that’s almost 13 feet long, seems to love it here. She patrols the waters between Toms River, N.J. and Virginia Beach, Va. regularly. Septima also appears to the shark that had been tracked closest to Ocean City, managing to ping twice in the Isle of Wight Bay last August.

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