LONG BEACH ISLAND-For several years, it has been a hobby for many Jersey Shore residents and a nightmare for others, tracking a mammoth great white shark up and down the eastern seaboard.
The thought of a 3,500 pound great white shark swimming up and down the Jersey shoreline sent shivers down the backs of many who became fans of the shark we called Mary Lee.
Using an app from Ocreach, Mary Lee reported in with a ping every time she surfaced, alerting trackers to her presence. He life over the past five years has been cataloged by the tracking system on her dorsal fin. The ping would register on Ocreach’s shark tracking software and report her location to the world and track her path.
She was captured and tagged in September of 2012 and for nearly five years, May Lee both wowed and frightened fans from Florida to Massachusetts tracked her.
This June, it will have been a year since Mary Lee’s tracking device checked in.
On June 7th, she emerged for the last time, early in the A.M. off the coast of Beach Haven.
She hasn’t been seen since.
What happened to Mary Lee? Nobody knows for sure. Chris Fischer and expedition leader for Ocreach figured Mary Lee is 50 years old. Great whites can live into their seventies. He suggests that the 5-year battery on Mary Lee’s tag could have finally gone dead.
The Capture of Mary Lee – by Ocreach
Mary Lee was first spotted that day by Chief Engineer Denny Wagner from atop the MV OCEARCH. “Great White!” He yelled down to Juan who spun around to see the great white who would become known as Mary Lee. Juan was immediately on the radio to the Contender to alert them to her sighting. As the crew aboard the Contender raced back to the mother ship, Juan made sure the shark stayed within range. Within minutes the Contender was at the starboard end of the ship, with Mary Lee circling.
Track sharks with Ocreach.
Mary Lee wouldn’t take the bait. She became curious as time wore on and started with a pattern of nudging at the Yamaha Outboards at the back of the boat, and continued to circle. Finally the call came in to the MV OCEARCH, “We’re hooked up!”
Mary Lee wasn’t going to swim into that cradle without a fight. It was a long walk up the current before the attachment of the buoys could be attempted. With two buoys on they started toward the mother ship. The current was ripping at about two and a half to three knots. Suddenly Mary Lee rolled and chewed off one of her buoys. Left with only one buoy to keep her near the top of the water, they attempted to bring her in.
As they approached, she dove and took a hard right to avoid the cradle causing the Contender to make a second pass once they had reattached a second buoy. Second time was the charm even as the battled the current. As Mary Lee made her way onto the lift her massive size became overwhelmingly apparent. With Juan at the controls, the lift was raised safely out of the water and Mary Lee was ready to be fitted with three different tags: SPOT, accelerometer and acoustic.
In the midst of tagging, an attempt to get her blood was made. The current was just too strong to lower the cradle, but Dr. Greg Skomal had to at least give it a try. As Captain Jody Whitworth, Chief Engineer Denny Wagner and First Mate Todd Goggins began to assist, her tail began to thrash, knocking Denny to the ground, swiping Todd and nearly flinging Jody off the lift.
Once calm, tissues samples were taken, parasites were gathered but the blood work had to be aborted. With time ticking, Mary Lee was lowered back into the surging current. Water hit her gills and she swung herself around on the lift. Captain Brett clung to the side as she charged out of the lift.
Chris Fischer reflects on Mary Lee and the crusade to get Mary Lee in the lift, “The most brutal battle, we have ever had. Bret McBride, Jody Whitworth, Todd Goggins. True warriors in the midst of a a modern day battle with an ocean giant in the toughest of environments we had ever had to work.”