Katharine, the most famous of the 47 great white sharks tagged and tracked by the nonprofit Ocearch organization, has made her way back to Florida. The 2,300-pound, 14-foot-long great white shark with a Twitter following spent some time over the past week meandering around the Cape Canaveral National Seashore off the Space Coast. It looked like she was headed our way until yesterday, when she was detected near Jacksonville.
Katharine's snowbird-like seasonal migratory cycles -- which include making her way up and down the coast of Florida -- have been well-documented since Ocearch tagged her in August 2013. Since then, Katharine has logged more than 10,000 miles and registered "pings" up and down the East Coast of the United States. Katharine's tag sends a signal back to base every time she comes to the surface, so it's difficult to track her exact movements, but updates on the Ocearch shark tracker occur quite often.
The tagging and tracking of sharks like Katharine allow marine biologists to gain a new understanding and appreciation for what, where, how, and why sharks move in our waters. Katharine made news last spring when a ping showed she was located within a mile of the Vero Beach coast. The alert prompted Ocearch to alert authorities just to be on the safe side. New technology has helped researchers discover how close these sharks really do come to our beaches, and the answer is, sometimes really close. Before these new tags were developed, it was not universally thought that these sharks actually make their way around Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico, but pings in the past two years have proven they in fact do.
"We are learning together as we look at these tracks," Bob Hueter, director of the center for shark research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, recently told Florida Today. "We've thrown out everything that we thought we knew about the species in the Atlantic."
In addition to Katharine, a shark named Mary Lee, who measures 16 feet and weighs 3,500 pounds, has sent signals that she is on her way toward South Florida. One named Bailey was also detected near Jacksonville. Not to worry, though; according to Ocearch, there has never been a reported attack in Florida on a bather or diver by a great white shark.
We'll continue to keep our eyes on the celebrity shark Katharine. In the meantime, we can entertain ourselves with vines of Super Bowl "Left Shark" until Katharine pops back up.