Real-Life 'Jaws' Arrives in the Hamptons

A great white shark named Mary Lee is reportedly off the coast of Montauk, NY but officials say it doesn't pose a danger to surfers or swimmers.

LONG ISLAND, NY—A great white shark is currently located off the South Fork shoreline, according to OCEARCH, a Utah-based nonprofit organization, which tagged the shark and is using real-time technology to track it as part of its efforts to learn more about the animal that inspired the Steven Spielberg film "Jaws."

The organization first tagged the great white — named Mary Lee — on Sept. 12, 2012, in Cape Cod, and since then the 16-foot, 3,456-pound carcharodon carcharias has made her way down the coast to St. Augustine, Fla., where she was recorded on Jan. 9.

She started her journey back up the coast on Jan. 10, zigging and zagging around the Carolinas. On Tuesday, at 6:04 p.m., she pinged off the coast of Quogue, according to OCEARCH's map.

As of Wednesday afternoon, she had made her way east, and was about 40 to 45 nautical miles off Montauk Point, the foundation said.

But, Petty Officer Patrick Rogers at Coast Guard Station Shinnecock said there is no cause for alarm, as the shark is heading away from the coast. He spoke to OCEARCH's founding chairman, Chris Fischer, when the the shark was 20 nautical miles off East Hampton. 

Rogers said this is the first time he has ever come across a great white tracking in these waters. 

Fischer explained that "pings" are received everytime a tagged shark's dorsal fin protrudes the water line.

Her movements are being tracked on OCEARCH's website

Mary Lee was named after Fischer's mother. He said Mary Lee is one of the most fascinating sharks he has ever tagged.

“My parents have done so much. I was waiting and waiting for a special shark to name after her and this is truly the most historic and legendary fish I have ever been a part of," he wrote on OCEARCH's website.

According to Fischer, Mary Lee is the second of two Atlantic great whites the foundation has tagged — the first was Genie, who last pinged in Savannah, GA, on Jan. 19.

To date, OCEARCH has tagged some 35 sharks around the world, but none have given away their whereabouts as much as Mary Lee.

Since being tagged, Mary Lee has become a "sensation" along the eastern seaboard, Fischer said.

"Most of the sharks we have tagged swim out in the ocean and we don't hear from them much, but Mary Lee is super coastal — people are following her everyday," he said.

Tagging, said Fischer, is a complex process and involves both researchers and skilled fishermen — once a shark is caught it is brought aboard OCEARCH's vessel using a heavy-duty 50,000-pound lift. The fish's eyes are covered and a hose is inserted in the fish's mouth. It takes researchers about 15 minutes to tag and release the shark.

"Until now, many researchers have never gotten up close to a great white," Fisher said. "And Mary Lee is the first shark in history we are able to track like this."

Tracking Mary Lee and her sister shark, Genie will allow researchers to learn more about the Atlantic great white, Fisher said.

"We don't even know where they breed," he said, adding that Mary Lee is a mature shark, who has the capability to breed. Her age, he said, could range anywhere between 20 and 70.

"We have no way of telling how old a great white is without cutting into its spinal cord and counting it like rings on a tree," he said.

Aside from learning more about the great white's breeding habits, Fischer hopes to dispel the myth of "Jaws," which was purportedly inspired by Montauk shark fishing legend Frank Mundus.

"We hope people become more enlightened and a conversation is started, especially since we opened up this tracker for the world to see," Fischer said. "When we think of a great white, we usually think of 'Jaws' music, but now people are asking what is she doing? Where is she going?"

The organization also offers an educational program for schools that ties math in with the tracking system and hopes that its research will some day affect policy around the world.

"Seventy-three million sharks are finned for soup every year," he said. "If we remove them from the system, the system will collapse."

OCEARCH's work has been featured on the History Channel. To learn more about the foundation, click here and to watch Mary Lee's travels in real-time, click here.

Editor's note: This article originally was published by Westhampton-Hampton Bays Patch on Long Island.


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