Great white shark that pinged near Murrells Inlet could be pregnant

Mary Lee, the great white shark that was tagged a year ago by researchers, has returned to the Grand Strand, this time popping up near Murrells Inlet, and researchers say her travel pattern could mean she's pregnant.

Research group OCEARCH placed a GPS tracking device on 16-foot, 3,500 pound Mary Lee last year.

They explain that over the past year, Mary Lee has traveled more than 13,000 miles along the east coast, spending a lot of time near the Carolinas.

Chris Fischer, founder of OCEARCH, explained that might be because Mary Lee is pregnant.

"I would suspect there's a lot of fish on the beaches down there right now and she might be enjoying that as an easy meal as she moves around in the southeast where it's milder than the northeast and probably a little bit easier to gestate and grow her babies."

Fischer added that great whites are usually pregnant for 18 months so, if Mary Lee got pregnant around the time she was tagged last year in Cape Cod, her tracking device could lead to an even more astonishing discovery.

"If that's the case, 18 months after she leaves there which will be this coming spring, she would drop off her pups in the nursery and we would discover for the first time where the nursery is because it takes white sharks 18 months from the point of breeding to having their babies," Fischer explained.

The single biggest challenge in tracking Mary Lee, Fischer said, has been bio-fouling or wear and tear to the GPS device. Over time, things start to grow on the device so OCEARCH has started to develop anti-fouling paints to prevent that on newer devices.

They are also developing better technology for tags they will place on other sharks.

"Soon we will have a new tag that I expect will give us more and more data, the temperature, the depth profile, the location all coming in through the satellites."

As for Mary Lee, Fischer said in the next few years, the shark will shed the GPS tracking device and will go on with her life.

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