Close encounters: Which OCEARCH great white sharks are swimming past the Treasure Coast?

·6 min read

Sable, an 800-pound great white shark, was swimming about 20 miles off of Vero Beach this week, but she's far from the only great white to visit the Treasure Coast.

She was tagged by OCEARCH, a nonprofit that tracks and researches aquatic creatures for the purposes of conservation. Locations and names of the tagged animals are displayed on its website and updated whenever a tracker "pings," which happens when an animal breaks the surface. The information is provided publicly to raise awareness about the sharks.

"It's actually transformed the perception that people had after the 'Jaws' era, that these are monsters and they're to be feared," said Bob Hueter, OCEARCH chief scientist, "to one of being very sympathetic toward the animals and actually cheering them on when they come to their own location."

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Animals tagged by OCEARCH account for only a small percentage of the creatures that swim past the Treasure Coast. OCEARCH has tagged 431 animals since 2007, according to its website, and, Hueter said, it has tagged 83 animals on the East Coast.

While a tagged shark makes its presence known when it surfaces, there are plenty more non-tagged sharks out there.

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, great whites have become increasingly abundant in the western North Atlantic due to increasing seal populations there, and waters between Jacksonville and Cape Canaveral are critical habitats and nursery zones for the sharks, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"It's a success story," Hueter said. "The white shark is rebuilding off the Atlantic coast now. It is coming back."

Here's a list of some of the OCEARCH-tagged great white sharks that have paid visits to the Treasure Coast recently.

Sable

Sable made her first recorded appearance near the Treasure Coast Sunday, about 20 miles off of Vero Beach. She was first tagged near Nova Scotia on Sept. 13, 2021. Researchers there named her after the Sable Island National Park Reserve near Halifax.

Since she was tagged last fall, she has traveled south along the East Coast, a common wintertime migration sharks do in search of warmer waters.

Size: 11½ feet long; 807 pounds

Distance traveled since being tagged: 2,525 miles

Last located: Jan. 23, about 20 miles off of Vero Beach

Sable, a 11.5-foot juvenile female white shark tagged by OCEARCH in Sept. 2021, pinged offshore of Vero Beach Jan. 23, 2022.
Sable, a 11.5-foot juvenile female white shark tagged by OCEARCH in Sept. 2021, pinged offshore of Vero Beach Jan. 23, 2022.

Vimy

Vimy, a nearly 13-foot adult male great white, was recorded Jan. 13 about 5 miles off Sebastian Inlet State Park.

He was initially tagged by OCEARCH near Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, Oct. 4, 2019. Since then, he has journeyed to southern waters and back several times, totaling 16,079 miles, according to OCEARCH.

His 5-mile brush with Sebastian was his closest recorded encounter with the Treasure Coast.

Size: 12 feet, 9 inches long; 1,164 pounds

Distance traveled since being tagged: 16,079 miles

Last located: Jan. 13, about 5 miles off of Sebastian Inlet State Park

Tancook

Tancook, a younger, smaller male great white, made a near-identical journey to Sable last fall. Dec. 26, 2021, the 715-pound shark was about 20 miles off Vero Beach.

It's common for sharks to make this migratory journey south, Hueter said.

"In the early or late fall, early winter, these animals start moving south," he said. "Depending upon their size and life stage, they'll come all the way down to the southeast Florida coast."

Tancook was captured and tagged two days after Sable during OCEARCH's Nova Scotia Expedition 2021, and he's the 81st shark tagged. His name means "facing the open sea" to the local indigenous Mi'kmaq people of Nova Scotia, according to OCEARCH's website.

After Tancook's stop near the Treasure Coast, he traveled back north and was last located Jan. 22 off the coast of St. Augustine.

Size: 9¾ feet long; 715 pounds

Distance traveled since being tagged: 2,537 miles

Last located: Jan. 22, offshore of St. Augustine

Katharine

Katharine, a 14-foot, 2,300-pound great white, last swam near the Treasure Coast Dec. 12, 2018, when she pinged about 10 miles off Jupiter Island. In May 2014, she pinged several times along the Treasure Coast, and at one point was about a mile off Sebastian Inlet State Park.

Katharine was tagged Aug. 20, 2013, near Cape Cod. She surfaced and pinged reliably for more than seven years, making her one of OCEARCH's longest-running sources of data. She also was a fan favorite, garnering more than 63,000 followers on Twitter.

Her last recorded location was Nov. 18, 2020, off the coast of North Carolina. Sharks' tags are supposed to last only five years, so it's not a cause for concern if a shark's tag stops pinging, Hueter said.

Size: 14 feet, 2 inches long; 2,300 pounds

Distance traveled since being tagged: 37,711 miles

Last located: Nov. 18, 2020, offshore of North Carolina

Unama'ki is a 2,076 pound, 15-foot, 5-inch white shark tagged Sept. 20 by OCEARCH.
Unama'ki is a 2,076 pound, 15-foot, 5-inch white shark tagged Sept. 20 by OCEARCH.

Unama'ki

Unama'ki, a giant, 2,000-pound female great white, passed the Treasure Coast Nov. 1, 2020, about 25 miles off Vero Beach. She's one of the biggest sharks OCEARCH has ever recorded.

The 15-foot shark was first captured and tagged near Scatarie Island, Nova Scotia, Sept. 20, 2019. Since then, she has traveled nearly 14,000 miles, according to OCEARCH.

Unama'ki's travels have brought her as far north as Newfoundland and as far south as Cuba. The year before she swam past the Treasure Coast, Unama'ki journeyed all the way around the Florida peninsula and into the Gulf of Mexico, going as far west as the coastal waters of Louisiana.

She's particularly important for OCEARCH research, because as an adult female, her movements could show where she gives birth and reveal another great white shark nursery.

Unama'ki was last located Nov. 20, 2020, about 60 miles west of Dry Tortugas National Park, 19 days after she passed by Vero Beach. However, her tag has pinged as recently as March 2021, but there was no location data provided, according to OCEARCH.

Size: 15 feet, 5 inches; 2,076 pounds

Distance traveled since being tagged: 13,877 miles

Last located: About 60 miles west of Dry Tortugas National Park, Nov. 20, 2020

OCEARCH will do another expedition in March off the coast of the Carolinas, Hueter said, because the sharks may be mating in that region, offering more opportunities for research.

Thomas Weber is a Digital Now Reporter at TCPalm. You can reach him at thomas.weber@tcpalm.com or 813-545-9113. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Shark! Great whites are making routine visits to the Treasure Coast