Hello, Mary Lee; goodbye, S.C. beaches
Friday, Dec. 13, 2013

Hello, Mary Lee; goodbye, S.C. beaches

This 1,780-pound tiger shark was taken at the Cherry Grove, S.C., fishing pier in 1964.
  • Great white shark facts •  Favorite foods: sea lions and seals. •  Top speed: 43 mph. •  Ancestry: Goes back 400 million years. •  Lifespan: Up to 60 years. •  Enemies: Killer whales, humans, mercury pollution.

Folks along the South Carolina coast are wishing that Mary Lee, a great white shark, would spend her Christmas season somewhere else.

According to information posted on www.ocearch.org, a 16-foot, 3,456-pound female shark was tagged with a GPS tracking device off Cape Cod on Sept. 17, 2012.

Since then, she has traveled more than 10,000 miles up and down the Atlantic coastline with stops near Bermuda in February and, most recently, in the shallow waters of St. Helena Sound, south of Edisto Beach, S.C.

Why so close to shore? The simple answer is food.

Like fishermen, great whites and other apex sharks find plenty to catch and eat along the South Carolina coastline. Because they are opportunistic feeders, their menu varies just like the “catch of the day” at your favorite seafood restaurant.

But anything dead or alive is fair game, including red drum, rays, skates, sea turtles, tarpon, dolphin, whales and sea birds.

Though seldom seen, sharks are frequent visitors to the beaches, inlets and backwater bays of South Carolina. Mary Lee’s short stay in St. Helena Sound has re-ignited fears of shark attacks in much the same way as the movie “Jaws” did in 1975.

But not everyone wants her to leave.

Like Black Beard and the other pirates of old, she has become something of a cult hero. What’s endeared her even more to her growing list of admirers are reports that suggest she may be pregnant and will give live birth to about 10 pups in the spring.

At birth, great white pups are about 5 feet long, weigh about 75 pounds and are equipped with a full set of teeth.

Until Mary Lee appeared on the scene, South Carolina’s most famous shark was a 1,780-pound tiger shark taken from the Cherry Grove Fishing Pier in North Myrtle Beach in 1964. It still shares the all-tackle world record with another gargantuan shark taken from Australia.

Other big sharks from South Carolina’s waters include a 588-pound hammerhead, a 477-pound bull shark and a big eye thresher that tipped the scales at 406 pounds.

Tips from Capt. Gus

You can track Mary Lee at www.ocearch.org/tracker/.

Hot Spots of the Week

The return of tens of thousands of seabirds is making it easier to locate schooling bass, perch, hybrids and the occasional striper.

When birds are diving, Alabama rigs, buck tail jigs and spoons tossed into the fray are rewarding anglers with nice catches.

In addition, crappie fishing is excellent around bridge pilings and submerged brush piles.

Lake report

The water level on Lake Norman is about 3.1 feet below full pond and is 3.7 feet below full on Mountain Island Lake.

The surface water temperature is in the 50s in areas not affected by power generation on Lake Norman.

Capt. Gus Gustafson is a freelance columnist and a professional fishing guide on Lake Norman. Have a story idea for Gus? Visit www.fishingwithgus.com or call 704-617-6812.

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