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Great white shark’s marathon journey has touching side story

For The Win logo For The Win 1/31/2019 Pete Thomas

a pool of water: File Photo

File Photo
© File Photo

A great white shark recently completed a marathon swim from Morro Bay in Central California to the Big Island of Hawaii - a distance of about 2,400 miles.

Michael Domeier, president of the Hawaii-based Marine Conservation Science Institute, announced the news Tuesday via Instagram.

The 15-foot female shark, nicknamed Murphy Jean, becomes MCSI's first California-tagged white shark to be tracked to Hawaii.

But there's also a touching element to this story. Murphy Jean, tagged by the MCSI's Keith Poe last Nov. 25, is named after Poe's 10-month-old grandniece, who underwent heart surgery in early December.

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"They have a lot in common as they are both incredibly strong and doing very well," Poe told For the Win Outdoors.

Murphy Jean the baby is "recovering beautifully" at home after doctors repaired four holes in her heart, said Stephanie Poe, the child's mom. She'll celebrate her first birthday on Feb. 2.

Murphy Jean the shark, interestingly, is off the Big Island roughly two weeks after Deep Blue, one of the largest great white sharks ever record, was spotted off Oahu.

Deep Blue, said to measure perhaps 21 feet, is an untagged female shark that inhabits waters around Mexico's Guadalupe Island - along with dozens of other white sharks - during late summer and fall.

Adult white sharks from California and Guadalupe Island migrate to a vast offshore region between Baja California and Hawaii each winter, with some reaching Hawaiian waters.

(A Stanford University/Monterey Bay Aquarium tagging program that focuses on white sharks from the Farallon Islands, west of San Francisco, has tracked sharks into Hawaiian waters. MCSI, likewise, has tracked tagged Guadalupe Island sharks to Hawaii.)

While it's not precisely clear why the sharks venture so far west, Domeier believes they utilize the offshore region as a feeding area.

"From our 20 years of researching adult white sharks off Mexico and California, I am confident that the time they spend in the offshore region, including Hawaii, is strictly for feeding," the scientist said. "Mating occurs when they are near the mainland. When they are offshore the sharks are widely dispersed and the males and females are not often in the same area.

"The mature females will spend nearly their entire 18-month gestation period in this pelagic habitat. It's remarkable, and we still don't exactly know how they manage to find enough to eat!

"But we do know a large number of sperm whales live between Hawaii and the mainland; perhaps there is enough natural mortality of these whales to provide some of what the sharks need to survive and grow their pups."

Other scientists have likewise speculated that deep-diving behaviors by tagged white sharks in the offshore zone - sometimes referred to as the White Shark Cafe - might imply feeding behavior.

Deep Blue, which is in the MCSI's photo-identification database, and two other large female white sharks were spotted in mid-January feeding on a sperm whale carcass near Oahu.

Domeier pointed out that Murphy Jean's tag shows her close to his Big Island home.

"It is crazy that two sharks from our research program are in Hawaii at the same time," Domeier said. "We first photographed Deep Blue 20 years ago at Guadalupe Island! She was just spotted off Oahu. And now Murphy Jean is right in my backyard on the Big Island."

The Marine Conservation Science Institute has tagged more than 100 white sharks at Guadalupe Island, and about 10 in what Poe described as a newly discovered "hot spot" between Morro Bay and Point Conception. The sharks' whereabouts can be tracked via MCSI's Expedition White Shark app.

-Images courtesy of Keith Poe/Marine Conservation Science Institute

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