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A Shark Named Mary Lee Is Helping Us Understand Her Kind

After the spate of shark attacks off North Carolina's coast, a great white shark with a Twitter account could give insight into her kind.
Posted at 11:28 PM, Jul 03, 2015

Despite the unusual number of shark attacks off North Carolina's coast this summer — seven since June...  (Video via NOAA)

"I'm punching the shark, trying to get the shark away from me," shark attack survivor Patrick Thornton told WWAY

...shark attacks are still very rare.

What's even more rare? A 3,500-pound great white shark, with a remarkable Twitter presence, teaching researchers more about the underwater predators. Her name is Mary Lee. 

Since being tagged in 2012 by non-profit shark research organization OCEARCH, Mary Lee has been on the move. She's covered more than 21,000 miles in the past three years. OCEARCH scientists are hoping to glean some information from Mary Lee about the hows and whys of sharks. 

International Shark Attack File curator George Burgess, an expert on this topic, appeared on several networks just in the past week to explain a mixture of factors contributed to attacks off North Carolina's coast: more people using beaches, sharks following their food, higher water temperatures, etc. Ultimately, though:

"That doesn't absolutely explain why we've had seven incidents in three weeks," Burgess said

Pinning down a single reason for the attacks seems unlikely — as does identifying culprits. Dr. Jim Gelsleichter, a marine biologist at the University of North Florida, told a Wilmington, North Carolina, paper there are 10 species of sharks that frequent North Carolina's coast. (Video via WJXT)

But OCEARCH scientists believe Mary Lee is the key to answering at least some questions about sharks and how they tick. And answers could be coming soon. 

"Where do they give birth? Where do they mate? And Mary Lee is coming up on completing that first full migratory cycle, and if she returns to Cape Cod this fall, it will really put the pieces of the puzzle together on mating and so forth," OCEARCH founder Chris Fischer said

This video includes an image from Getty Images and music from Matt Lloyd / CC BY 3.0.