Add George to the list of great white sharks venturing south along Florida’s Atlantic shoreline.
While Katharine surfaced long enough to last ping about 10 miles off of Lake Worth, George, a 9-foot, 702-pound white shark, surfaced Monday, allowing his satellite tracker to place him about 20 miles off the coast just north of Daytona Beach.
According to OCEARCH, the ocean conservation group that tags and tracks sharks, George is the first mature male white shark spot tagged in the North Atlantic Ocean.
And he’s new to the tracking game. George was just tagged in October off Nantucket, Mass.
While George and Katharine have so far stayed far offshore, in 2013, another shark ventured closer to the beach.
Mary Lee, a more than 16-foot long mature female, came close enough to shore that OCEARCH posted a note on its Facebook page alerting Jacksonville residents that the 3,500-pound shark was in the surf break off 6th Avenue South and 1st Street S.
She was in the surf break.
In January 2013, Fischer was at his Colorado home, snow falling, when he checked the tracker and there was Mary Lee, a mature great white at 16 feet long and more than 3,400 pounds, not far from shore.
“I called the Jax Beach police station. It was the strangest call I’ve ever made, but I thought I should let somebody know,” Fischer recalled.
Lifeguards cleared the beach and when Mary Lee pinged again, she was four miles off shore. They opened the beach without incident.
“From that time on, the public officials have been following our sharks,” Fischer said.
Ami Meite, who works in communications for OCEARCH, said there is no set policy on when it notifies authorities on how close a shark is to shore. Also, the group specifically has no latitude or longitude lines on the shark tracker to discourage people from trying to find the sharks on their own.
George Burgess, a University of Florida shark researcher and keeper of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History, isn’t sold on the accuracy of the trackers OCEARCH uses.
He said the locations are approximate, and compares it to the so-called “cone of uncertainty” hurricane forecasters use when predicting where a storm will go.
“They are very, very hazy numbers that come in from those tags,” Burgess said. “Even if they came closer to shore, the take home is that we have never had a confirmed shark attack in Florida by a white shark. The risk is minimal to none.”
That George is joining Katharine in Florida’s winter waters is no news to shark researchers who published a paper in 2014 that looked at great white migrations. The research found many great whites spend their summer’s in the northeast, and winter in the south from the Carolinas into the Gulf of Mexico.
“White sharks are generally a cool water species so that’s why we see them down here mostly in the winter,” said Dean Grubbs, associate director of research at Florida State University’s Coastal and Marine Lab. “They may be following a food source. It’s a pretty common migration for everything.”
Greg Skomal, a scientist with the Massachusetts division of marine fisheries, said it’s unusual for white sharks to come close to the beaches in Florida.
Unlike Massachusetts, where seals are shark prey and lure them close to shore, that’s not the case in Florida where white shark meals are likely further out to sea.
“There is nothing to draw the white sharks that tight to shore in Florida,” Skomal said. “There are not a lot of sightings right on the beach.”