SALISBURY — Beachgoers may spot different marine life off the coast such as dolphins, but it’s not every day that a great white shark swims by.
Today is different. Ocearch, a research organization, says a 10-foot, 2-inch great white shark last pinged off the coast of Wallops Island, Virginia, on June 30.
The shark, named Miss May, has been swimming north for more than a month. She’s been visiting areas such as Charleston, South Carolina, Wilmington, North Carolina, and up through the Delmarva Peninsula.
In just the last 72 hours, Miss May has swum 139 miles northward up the coast, according to Ocearch. Over the span of Ocearch’s efforts to track Miss May, she has swam more than 2,600 miles. She was first tagged by Ocearch at Fernandina Beach, Florida, on Feb. 15.
Bryan Franks, a shark scientist for Ocearch, says Miss May has been a terrific shark for the program in terms of providing data. Each shark is tagged with a satellite recorder that “pings” when the shark gets near the surface of the water. Franks says Miss May has been quite the “pinger.”
Franks, an assistant professor of marine science at Jacksonville University, says most great white sharks move north toward Canada or New England in the summer because of water temperatures and food. In the winter, great whites then migrate back to the southeast United States or Gulf of Mexico.
“A lot of the times you’ll hear them compared to snowbirds, the people from up north who head to Florida for the winter and then again the following late spring, early summer [or] mid-summer [they]will make the migration back north again,” Franks said.
Franks says Ocearch is trying to learn as much as possible about sharks with its program. He added that Miss May has been a “great representative” for her species.
Capt. Butch Arbin of the Ocean City Beach Patrol says beachgoers sometimes ask about sharks, but it usually depends on if the animal is in the news. Another time that sparks shark questions, Arbin says, is during Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week (which this year begins on July 28).
Arbin says Ocean City’s waterways aren’t conducive for sharks or large fish to come close to shore. The town even banned chumming, the practice of throwing blood or fish parts into the water to attract fish.
“People that do worry about it [shark attacks] should really worry about other things first,” Arbin said.
Instead of worrying about sharks, Arbin says people should focus on lightning. He said the Beach Patrol has issues trying to get people off the beach during lightning and thunderstorms.
Miss May isn’t the first of Ocearch’s tagged sharks to swim by the Delmarva Peninsula this year. Jane, a 10-foot, 521-pound great white shark, most recently pinged off the Delmarva Peninsula off the coast of Cape Charles, Virginia, on June 20.
Before that Cabot, a 533-pound, nearly 10-foot-long male great white shark made an appearance off the coast of Ocean City on May 14 while on his journey north. He continued to swim north past New York City and up toward Canada.
Another male great white shark, Brunswick, pinged off Ocean City on May 31. Brunswick is an 8-foot, 9-inch male who weighs about 431 pounds. Brunswick also swam north to Canadian waters.
According to the Beach Patrol, there have been no recorded shark incidents in Maryland since record-keeping began.
“However, the shark attack registry only goes back to 1642 so we don’t know what happened prior to that!” Beach Patrol records state.
Beach Patrol’s document, “What Is the Most Dangerous Risk at a Beach?” doesn’t include the risks of shark attacks in its priority list. It goes on to say that in coastal states on average about 37 people are killed by lightning compared with 0.5 who are killed by sharks and 18.7 who are attacked by sharks.
In Maryland, humans have a 1 in 3.5 million odds of drowning, but only a 1 in 11.5 million chance odds of being attacked by a shark and an even smaller zero in 264.1 million odds of being killed by a shark.
“We [Maryland] never [have] had a shark incident. It’s the only state that has coastal waters that’s never had a shark incident,” Arbin said.
Arbin has been a lifeguard in Ocean City for many decades. During that time he’s been a part of several lightning strikes, but never any shark attacks. Arbin says he was even a lifeguard in the summer of 1975 when the first “Jaws” movie came out.
Arbin says people sat in beach chairs that summer reading the book, but it didn’t stop anyone from going in the water.
“But people absolutely in Ocean City, Maryland, should not be concerned about sharks at all,” Arbin said.
Franks said scientists don’t understand why some great white sharks swim closer to shore than others while they migrate
These sharks have been probably making these migrations for a long time, but the difference is now we know more about it
“I don’t necessarily think it’s something you should be overly worried about because when push comes to shove the chances of an incident happening are very, very low,” Franks said. “It’s good to be aware, to remember that when you’re in the ocean you’re in a wild habitat.”
Franks says he and Miss May seem to be sharing a special connect as she swims north.
“Interestingly enough my family owns a motel in Wildwood Crest [New Jersey] on the beach and I had to call my mom and tell her to Miss May is hanging out right around there,” Franks said. “She got a kick out of that.”
Frank described it as a “kind of personal affinity for her.”
“What’s funny is we caught her almost exactly offshore from where I work right now and today as I’m talking to you she is almost exactly offshore from where I grew up as a kid,” Franks said.