Another great white? Mary Lee not alone

Ocearch satellite-tagged Mary Lee off the coast of Chatham, Mass. on Sept. 17. She's appeared in the Charleston area twice since then. Experts say there could be as many as 10 or 11 in the area at any moment.

The anglers knew Mary Lee was out there somewhere. So when a behemoth shark began to circle the sports fishing boat, the first thought was, whoa.

It turned out the 16-foot-long, 3,465-pound Mary Lee isn’t the only sizable great white shark in the Lowcountry sea. The 12-foot-long or so great white that cruised the Teaser 2 about 25 miles off the Charleston jetties is no slouch either.

The McCarthy Construction project team was aboard the boat for the trip Nov. 5, just a day after Mary Lee swam away the first time from the coast off Isle of Palms.

The creature they saw “looked like one you’d see on the Discovery channel. Beautiful, beautiful creature. Huge,” said Troy Morgan, of the team. “I’m glad I was on a big boat, though.”

Great whites, of course, are the “lions of the ocean,” apex predators mischaracterized and vilified by the 1970s book and movie “Jaws.”

Mary Lee made waves among surfers and others in the Lowcountry when she first showed up off Isle of Palms earlier this month. Satellite tagged earlier in New England by Ocearch, a group researching great white behavior, the shark migrated here, then to Florida before returning over the weekend to swim past Isle of Palms again. On Monday afternoon, a satellite ping put her near Cape Romain off the Santee River.

Captain Mark Brown of Teaser 2 knew the shark circling his boat wasn’t Mary Lee. It just wasn’t big enough and there was no satellite transmitter attached. But even for the veteran angler and seaman, the sight was impressive. The shark came up after amberjacks, Brown said, trailed by a stream of remorras, or pilot fish, opportunistic smaller fish that feed off remains left by the huge predator.

“It looked like the pied piper,” Brown said. The shark “was fat. It was a really heavy-looking fish. It looked like it had been eating really well.”

Great whites are thought to be generally rare around the world and are rarely seen off the Lowcountry, but that doesn’t mean too much. It’s a big deep ocean, and as Mary Lee demonstrates, the sharks can travel.

“It’s long odds to spot one coming to the surface,” said Bryan Frazier, S.C. Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist. “We know they are out there. We don’t know how many we have.”

The great white is one of nearly 40 species of sharks found here. In autumn each year, sharks gather off river mouths to feed on fish making their way offshore. A 13-foot great white found on Morris Island in November 2008 had red drum scales in its stomach.

Ocearch has tagged 13 great whites and only two have satellite transmitters, Frazier said.

“There’s a good chance there’s another 10 or 11 swimming around out there right now. Nobody knows.”

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

Comments { }

Postandcourier.com is pleased to offer readers the enhanced ability to comment on stories. We expect our readers to engage in lively, yet civil discourse. Postandcourier.com does not edit user submitted statements and we cannot promise that readers will not occasionally find offensive or inaccurate comments posted in the comments area. Responsibility for the statements posted lies with the person submitting the comment, not postandcourier.com. If you find a comment that is objectionable, please click "report abuse" and we will review it for possible removal. Please be reminded, however, that in accordance with our Terms of Use and federal law, we are under no obligation to remove any third party comments posted on our website. Read our full Terms and Conditions.