Mary Lee, the far-wandering great white shark the Lowcountry made famous, has vanished — electronically speaking.
The last "ping" from her transmitter was in June. No one has seen or heard from her since.
The reports of her death, though, have been speculatively exaggerated. The most likely thing that's happened is the electronic dorsal fin tracker used to map and follow her has lost battery power.
So keep an eye out if you're offshore. A lot of the people who have kept tabs on her would like to know where she is. A bite in her dorsal fin gives a few of her loyalest followers a nip of hope.
They're appealing to offshore boaters to watch — especially off South Carolina — for a huge great white with a distinctive half moon bite in her fin and maybe some equipment attached.
"Hundreds of thousands of persons are interested in Mary Lee," said Jo O'Keefe, of Carolina Shores, North Carolina, a Mary Lee fan.
Mary Lee has been the darling of the East Coast since she was tagged off Cape Cod in 2012, then turned up just past the breakers at Isle of Palms two months later.
An alert posted on a surfing webpage brought a mention from The Post and Courier, and the tale of Mary Lee went viral on social media.
More than 100,000 people currently follow the Twitter feed for the shark @MaryLeeShark.
Since her original tagging, she has foraged much of the Atlantic between the East Coast and Bermuda. But she continued to return to Lowcountry waters for what researchers guess is a rich supply of fish around the state's many inlets.
Mary Lee weighs more than a half ton and is at least 16 feet long. There's no more than a handful of tagged great whites that large out there, S.C. Department of Natural Resources biologist Bryan Frazier said.
Few more than a dozen somewhat smaller "sub-adults" have been tagged.
The batteries powering the sharks' locator transmitter "pings" normally have an expected lifespan of three years. Mary Lee has been tagged for five years now and pinged hundreds of times prior to going dark.
"In all likelihood it's just the battery," Frazier said.
If someone spots a very large great white, and particularly if they're able to get a photo, biologists might be able to say it's Mary Lee just by process of elimination, he said.
Great white sharks are the long-feared alpha predators of the deep ocean. More recently, though, shark species are becoming an invaluable resource for medicine and have been found to be key to the health of ocean ecosystems. Very simply: the more sharks you have, the more fish you have.
But little is known about their behavior.