Great White Shark Mary Lee Returns To New Jersey

Mary Lee, one of the world’s most famous great white sharks, has returned to the northeastern seaboard, surfacing just off the coast of New Jersey earlier this week.

The shark, a 16-foot-long, 3,456 pound great white, is outfitted with a satellite tag that alerts researchers to her whereabouts every time her dorsal fin breaks the surface. Attached to Mary Lee in 2012 by Ocearch, the tag has most recently revealed that she has moved north, last appearing just south of New Jersey’s Ship Bottom.

Until recently, Mary Lee has spent much of the summer near Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, before moving to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Earlier this month, the shark began to migrate northward, and Ocearch pointed out on social media that they expected her to return to Cape Cod. Though a number of white sharks congregate in the region each summer, Mary Lee hasn’t paid a visit to the cape since she was first tagged, three years ago.

While Mary Lee swam as far north as Ocean City earlier this month, she then turned south once more, returning to North Carolina. After approaching Kill Devil Hills, the shark then began to follow the coastline, surfacing near Virginia Beach on October 12. By the morning of October 14, Mary Lee had returned to Ocean City, and the next day she turned up just off Atlantic City, as the Asbury Park Press points out.

Though Mary Lee hasn’t returned to Cape Cod over the past three years, her movements northward have previously served to attract her a devoted and wide-ranging fanbase. Earlier this year, Mary Lee followed the coastline to the New York Bight, an area thought to be a nursery for young great white sharks. As she did so, Mary Lee found herself at the center of a social media frenzy, and by the time the shark turned south once more, she was a bonafide internet celebrity. An unofficial Twitter account bearing her name (but unaffiliated with Ocearch) boasts more than 90,000 followers, many of whom watch Mary Lee’s every move.

While she is closely followed, Mary Lee is hardly the only great white shark cruising along the northeastern seaboard of the United States. While in North Carolina, she was swimming near another white shark tracked by Ocearch, named Katharine. Also tagged in Cape Cod, Katharine has returned to the region several times since, exhibiting a dramatic coastal pattern of movements that are somewhat distinct from Mary Lee’s.

Cape Cod, meanwhile, has become a hotbed of white shark activity in recent years, and the population appears to be increasing in the region. Last year, researchers working with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy managed to identify and catalog 68 individual great whites in the waters off the cape. This year, that number increased to over 80, though neither Mary Lee nor Katharine were among them.

Though her eventual destination is a mystery, Mary Lee remains active and on the move. The shark has traveled some 24,000 miles since she was first tagged, as CBS News points out. In the 72 hours preceding October 15, she traveled a total of 319 miles. If her path brings Mary Lee to Cape Cod in the coming weeks, her return would mark a surprising development in an already successful year for great white shark research.

[Photo by Dan Kitwood / Getty Images]