We’ve come a long way from Jaws.
Instead of fearing sharks, many people on the East Coast are celebrating a certain finned, seasonal, sea-faring resident.
Mary Lee the great white shark is a mature female (40 to 50 years) who measures more than 16 ft. and likes to spend her summers in New Jersey and The Hamptons, and her winters in the open ocean and Bermuda.
How is Mary Lee’s vacation schedule common knowledge? Because she was one of the first mature Great Whites tagged by Ocearch, a group dedicated to the research and conservation of the oceans’ sharks and other creatures, in 2012. Since then, Mary Lee, named after the mother of Ocearch founder Chris Fischer, has travelled more than 40,000 miles, according to the New York Times, helping Ocearch understand more about great whites by sending a ping with her location from a tracker on her dorsal fin to a satellite.
Even with all the world’s oceans at her disposal, Mary Lee continues to come back to the Hamptons to summer. She has stopped by for the past three years. This loyalty, along with a Twitter page that boast more than 120,000 followers, has won her a fanbase with the East Coast elite, who Tweet their love and support to the prehistoric fish regularly and keep an eye out for her in the waters off Long Island.
“She has become sort of a mascot,” Andy Brosnan, chairman of the Eastern Long Island chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, told NYT. “Even before she showed up last time, people were like, ‘Has anybody seen anything about Mary Lee?’ ”
On June 17, Mary Lee was close to her summer spot, dipping down to the Jersey Shore based on her tracker’s information. This is her last known location according to Ocearch.org, where shark lovers can track the swimmers themselves, but since a shark needs to surface for a certain period of time to offer an accurate location reading, there is a chance that she has made her way back north.
Last year’s visit to the Hamptons proved especially eventful, with Mary Lee leading researchers to a great white nursery in the waters just off East Hampton.
“We first got an idea of where the sharks were mating, and because females have an 18-month gestation period, you can follow them for 18 months and get an idea of where they’re birthing,” said Fischer.
With the information that great whites usually mate in the fall or winter, Ocearch kept a close eye on Mary Lee around May and June, when a litter would be due.
In May 2016, she swam past Fire Island and near East Hampton, and that is where Ocearch was able to find and tag nine great white pups. These immature sharks will be vital to understanding how great whites migrate in their early years.
Thanks to her assistance with exciting new shark discoveries and her “self-managed” Twitter account, Mary Lee is helping her entire species come out of the negative shadow cast on them by blockbuster movies.
“We’re trying to undo everything that Jaws did,” Fischer told the paper. “If we don’t have a lot of Mary Lees, our children won’t be able to eat fish sandwiches. If they go, the entire system goes.”
To learn more about Ocearch’s work, track shares and support their research, visit their website at ocearch.org.