Katharine the shark may be Brevard-bound -- and pregnant
Shark pinged near Florida-Georgia border this week
Katharine the great white shark is closing in on the Space Coast again.
And this time, scientists suspect she might be pregnant, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
Back in mid-March, Katharine's transmitter "pinged" in offshore waters east of Norfolk-Virginia Beach. She has swum southward since, reaching South Carolina by mid-April.
Then Sunday, Katharine pinged near the Florida-Georgia border. At 7:01 a.m. Wednesday, she pinged between Daytona Beach and Palm Coast.
"The first two years of her track, (she was) looking like an immature animal. And then this past year, she did not return to Cape Cod. So we're wondering if we're actually witnessing her transition from an immature shark to a mature shark — and wondering if she could be pregnant," said Chris Fischer, founder of the shark-tracking group OCEARCH.
"I have no idea where she's going right now. It'll be interesting to me to see if she returns to Cape Cod this fall, which would repeat the 2-year migratory cycle we've seen of mature females that have given birth in other areas of the world," Fischer said.
"She's an interesting shark, for sure," she said.
OCEARCH researchers captured Katharine during an August 2013 expedition off Cape Cod and attached a satellite transmitter to her dorsal fin. At the time, she measured 14 feet, 2 inches long and weighed in at 2,300 pounds.
In 2014, Katharine became OCEARCH's first Atlantic great white shark to migrate past the Florida Keys into the Gulf of Mexico. Then she returned to Cape Cod, a suspected great white shark breeding ground.
However, Katharine skipped Cape Cod during 2015, opting instead to patrol offshore waters near Nova Scotia. Fischer said the species has an 18-month gestation period.
If pregnant, Katharine will likely give birth soon to four to 14 pups, Fischer said. Each would measure about 4.5 feet long.
"They come out, and they're on their own," he said.
Fischer said Katharine's adventures are providing valuable information that may help ensure the survival of her species.
"With the North Atlantic white shark, we need to get another 20 animals tagged so that we can see these patterns emerge across a larger sample size. So that the scientists then have enough data to get published, so we can leverage it for policy," Fischer said.
"To discover the birthing site is crucial because you have to look after the nursery. That's where the sharks are most vulnerable, when they're little," he said.
"And so, tracking these mature females and having them lead us to where they give birth — and then going to those areas and tagging small sharks and letting them define the size of their nursery — really gives us the critical information required to look after the sharks when they're young and vulnerable," he said.
Since she was tagged nearly three years ago, Katharine has traveled 28,814 miles, satellite data shows.
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