Great white shark becomes Twitter star
Great white shark becomes Twitter star (Thinkstock)
Great white shark becomes Twitter star
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They're going to need a bigger Twitter.

An organization studying great white sharks is enjoying some welcome attention. One of the creatures they've been monitoring has started gaining a loyal social media following. @MaryLeeShark is the fake Twitter handle for a very real, nearly 3,500-pound great white. The shark's movements can be tracked online and in real time.

She's drawn over 44,000 followers. She provides playful updates and witty replies. All as the real life shark cruises up and down the East Coast.

"Oh heyyyyy.... you're right by my house, come by for a nightcap?" invited one Twitter commenter. The shark had just popped up off the coast of Long Island, New York.

"I would settle for an ice bag to put on my aching Twitter fin. -:()," Mary Lee replied.

"What do you do during Shark Week?" another commenter asked. "Swim. Eat. Tweet. Etc. Exhausting. -;()," Mary Lee responded.

The shark was tagged off the coast of Cape Cod. It is among hundreds of sharks that OCEARCH has tagged and tracked since 2007. OCEARCH is a Utah-based organization.

The fake Twitter handle isn't affiliated with OCEARCH (pronounced Oh-Search). But OCEARCH expedition leader Chris Fischer says the organization appreciates the attention the maritime missives have generated. He named Mary Lee after his mother.

"They're really clever. They really like sharks and they're on a mission. So we're just kind of rolling with it," he said. He was in Australia on the organization's latest expedition.

OCEARCH has even jumped on the bandwagon. It launched "official" Twitter handles for two other sharks. They are being monitored off the East Coast. @Shark_Katharine and @RockStarLydia both have sizable followings of their own.

The person behind the @MaryLeeShark account did surface when The Associated Press sent a Twitter message.

The account's operator identified themselves only as a daily newspaper reporter living on the East Coast. The account operator expressed pleasant surprise at the attention and OCEARCH's support.

"The recent explosion of followers has been a lot of fun, but also like a second job. I do everything manually - no robo tweets," the account owner wrote. "The best part is that (@MaryLeeShark) plays a role in helping to replace fear with facts by retweeting and commenting on @OCEARCH tweets. I (try) to be respectful of the important work OCEARCH does and have fun at the same time."

OCEARCH's multi-year project uses GPS trackers. They are affixed to the shark's dorsal fin. The trackers post real time data on dozens of great whites across the globe. Mary Lee was hanging out near Ocean City, Maryland on May 17, for example. The goal is to better understand the shark's life cycle. And to encourage conservation of the endangered ocean predators.

Shark researchers say the work is important. They say there's still a lot unknown about the behavior of mature white sharks. The massive beasts are extremely difficult to tag with modern GPS trackers.

OCEARCH is one of the few outfits with the technology, skill and resources for the job. The organization operates largely on corporate funding. Its crew consists of professional fisherman-turned-ocean explorers.

"This gives us a much better understanding of the movement patterns of these animals through days, months and years," says Robert Hueter. He is director of the Center for Shark Research. It is located at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida.

Gregory Skomal is a marine biologist who heads the Massachusetts Shark Research Program. He says the research is of particular interest along the densely populated East Coast. That's where great whites are being spotted with greater frequency.

The sharks are increasingly drawn to places like Cape Cod and its surrounding islands. The seaside communities are forever linked with the movie "Jaws. The increase in sharks is because seal populations have soared.

"Basically the cafe is open and the customers are arriving," Skomal said. "Ten or fifteen years ago, you might have had three to four sightings of white sharks off the coast of Massachusetts a year. Now we're getting well over 30 or 40."

The researchers are reluctant to draw quick conclusions about great white behavior based on the few East Coast great whites OCEARCH is tracking.

Some, like Mary Lee, have stayed relatively close to the shore. That's to the delight and alarm of Twitter followers. Others have ventured far into the Atlantic.

Shark fans say they've found the tongue-in-cheek tweets fun and informative. Many hope the attention helps overcome fears and misconceptions about the powerful but endangered creatures.

"People need to think about them not so much as a predator and something to be feared, but more as something that needs to be protected," said Teri Drake-Floyd. She is an Athens, Georgia resident. She recently started following @MaryLeeShark. "The ocean is their home, not ours. And so it's kind of our responsibility to look out for them."

Critical thinking challenge: Why is it important to replace fears about sharks with facts?

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Assigned 49 times

  • SeanS-Kut
    5/21/2015 - 03:07 p.m.

    It's amazing that you can track the shark's movements online and in real time. And its amazing that she already has drawn over 44,000 followers. OCEARCH's multi-year project uses GPS trackers. They are put on to shark's dorsal fin I personally think it would hurt.

  • JordanYBlue
    5/21/2015 - 04:45 p.m.

    That's really interesting about that someone made an account pretending that the shark was that user. It is really also amazing that the sharks don't mind about all those people that support them.

  • SullivanLGreen
    5/21/2015 - 04:45 p.m.

    I think this was a good idea. This is like helping sharks in a way. By making sharks thought as nice, not mean. I like Mary Lee Shark!

    • AmauriB-Ewi
      5/22/2015 - 12:28 p.m.

      well shark are not nice the mean all they want to do she eat people cause they be hungry and don't get enough food but seen when they smell blood they swim so fast u don't even no where they are.

  • TaytenTGreen
    5/21/2015 - 04:46 p.m.

    I think that it's very cool that people like OCEARCH that they have people make funny and witty accounts for sharks that re being tracked off the East Coast. If a Great White could actually tweet that would be pretty funny and cool I would only follow those sharks.

  • SladeG-2
    5/21/2015 - 07:10 p.m.

    This article is about a shark account in Twitter. The Twitter account is real and the shark is real as well. The Sharks name is Mary lee and she has been tracked by the company by the name is OSEARCH. People find it interesting that you can figure out where the shark is by going into the Sharks Twitter account. It brings a lot of attention and helps raise money for an organization. My opinion on this article is that I think it is very cool that someone has made an account for a shark where you can track where she is at any point in time.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    5/21/2015 - 07:41 p.m.

    I think that it is cool for a shark to be a twitter fan even though that it that they are very scary, but it is really cool if a shark is a twitter fan, but I don't know how it got to be the twitter fan, but I think that divers think that the shark is the great fan for twitter. Well if a shark is one of twitter's fans, I think that it might be cool if other marine animals could be one of twitter's fans.

  • HannahH-1
    5/21/2015 - 08:39 p.m.

    A great white shark has been traveling up and down the east coast. The Shark has been given the name of Mary Lee. She was first tagged by OCEARCH off of the coast of cape cod. OCEARCH is a Utah-based organization. A twitter account has surfaced in which you can follow the sharks movements and even recieve witty replies and comments by the account managers. The account has gained over 44,000 followers. I think that this account is very cool because it spreads awareness about sharks and allows people to not be afraid of them.

  • JackR-5
    5/21/2015 - 09:23 p.m.

    A company called OCEARCH puts GPS is on sharks. Then they use Twitter to pretend that they are the shark. They give Woody Twitter updates. The company started a little while ago, and has been tracking sharks ever since. They put the trackers on the fence. They have over 3500 shirts. I think it would be very cool to have this job. The shark updates are very neat.

  • HudsonC-3
    5/21/2015 - 09:49 p.m.

    Mary Lee's twitter wasn't what you expected it to be. It is a great white shark in the Atlantic ocean. She is big and heavy. She goes to cape cod a lot and other places for the seals. This shark was tagged by OCEARCH and is being posted onto websites daily. You can track her 24-7. I think there should be other animal social media pages. Mary lee should be put on television.

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