Katharine, a 14ft great white shark with a worldwide fan base, has re-emerged on a satellite tracking system researchers used to follow her movements.
The rediscovery comes as surprise to the team, as Katharine disappeared from radar more than a year ago, causing alarm among her many followers.
“The analysis shows there’s a chance she could be about 200 miles off the coast of Virginia,” researchers for the marine research company Ocearch wrote in a 7 April Facebook post.
Also called “Katherine” by some in the US, the shark is named after the songwriter and Cape Cod native Katharine Lee Bates – most known for her poem America The Beautiful. She has a huge following, including her own Twitter account, as one of two social sharks for Ocearch.
According to the team, their satellite tracking provider “did an in-depth analysis” to produce an “extremely rough estimate of where she might be”. Ocearch had been tracking the shark, as well as other great whites, along the north-west Atlantic coast.
Scientists initially believed Katharine’s tracker had run out of batteries as the shark had not appeared on radar since May 2019. The tracker had been fitted seven years prior and batteries typically last five.
“She’ll be bigger, significantly bigger and in particular, she’s much, much girthier,” Chris Fischer, Ocearch’s founder, told the Miami Herald. “She’s probably a very robust, mature female white shark in her productive prime.”
While the data-based research company has been applauded by many for its contribution to peer-reviewed research on marine biology, Ocearch has faced criticism for its popularization of shark tracking.
Some critics have alleged Ocearch’s methods border on exploitation, citing the company’s controversial partnerships with companies including SeaWorld.
Fischer defended the company’s approach. In an interview with the New York Times, he questioned how research would be funded without its partnerships and apparel sales.
“In the end, if we’re going to have an abundant ocean, why not get everybody involved?” he asked.
Ocearch did not return a request for comment on its partnership with SeaWorld.
However, according to SeaWorld’s website, the partnership includes “rescue, research, education and policy”, increasing consumers’ understanding of marine life “to save species and their habitats”.
Great white sharks can grow up to 20ft in length. Fischer estimated Katharine could now be up to 3,300lb. Katharine is believed to be 30 years old.