January 4, 2013

Are Great Whites Feeding on Right Whales Off the US East Coast?

For everyone who follows this blog either here or via Facebook, you already know that we are huge fans of the two great whites that were satellite tagged in Cape Cod last Fall by Ocearch and have since been making their presence known up and down the U.S. East Coast.

Of the two tagged sharks, the one named Mary Lee has received most of the limelight because unlike her shy friend Genie, Mary Lee has sent out at least one ping on a near daily basis..  In the last couple months or so, she has moved up and down the coast from northern Florida to southern North Carolina.  Her cohort Genie has been much more secretive and has oftentimes gone several weeks between pings.

Mary Lee is farther north & Genie farther east.
So as these two star sharks continue to delight the plethora of followers who check in daily for any updates, the researchers on the other hand, are scouring over the data as they try to understand the migration habits of these two great white sharks.  It is there hard work that will someday help guide policymakers when formulating great white protection measures.

So that takes us to today when both Mary Lee and Genie pinged earlier this afternoon near the Florida/Georgia border.  What made today's action more notable was that it has been nearly four weeks since Genie last pinged and here she was hanging out in the general vicinity of Mary Lee.

Needless to say, the Ocearch Facebook page was abuzz with comments and questions.  But it was the one question posed by Ocearch that peeked my curiosity.  They simply asked, "what are they doing out there?"  Of course there were quite a few humerus comments but there were also other comments where the poster was genuniely trying to understand the mystery. 

Black whale fin represents sighting report
It was one of those comments that caught my eye.  J.r. Waits had posted on the Ocearch wall that a right whale birth was just reported off South Carolina coast. Jo O'Keefe responed to J.r. that a cow and calf pair were recently reported offshore of Beaufort.  He also gave the link to the NOAA North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting database.

Both of the tagged sharks were currently much further south and were actually near the FL/GA border so I wondered if there were any recent sightings in that area.  I assumed there would be a few because pregnant right whales are known to migrate to an area off the Georgia and Florida coast to give birth between the months of December and March.  But when I checked the database, I was rather surprised when I pulled up the sighting report and it showed 22 right whale sightings in the past two weeks with the vast majority being a mother with her calf.

Although to the naked eye both the whale and shark locations chart appeared to be very similar, it wasn't until I married the two images that I saw just how close the groupings were located.  So are the sharks in that area because they are attempting to feed on the right whale calfs or are they there to give birth to their own calfs...maybe both or maybe neither?  As for the answer, I'll leave that to the real recearchers and step back from my arm-chair shark-enthusiast theories.

But no mater the answers, it has been absolutely fascinating to follow these two sharks and we owe our gratitude to the Ocearch crew who were able to safely tag these two sharks.

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