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Sharks and Twitter

Aug 30, 2015 02:43PM ● Published by Julie Ross

By Julie Ross 

Mary Lee has more than 87,000 Twitter followers. Mary Lee is a great white shark.

Historically, sharks have received a lot of bad publicity, and that’s why I’m glad Mary Lee is so popular. She is tagged with a radio transmitter that broadcasts her location to satellites; as I write this, she’s off the coast of Georgia.When people get connected in this way to an individual shark, it can change their reaction from fear to respect. And with respect comes a deeper understanding of the species and the desire for conservation.

As biologist Gregory Skomal of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries puts it, “Sharks may scare us, but we eat them a lot more than they eat us.” Well put. Researchers and shark fans hope that the public turns irrational fears into awe and respect for these apex predators, whose presence is critical to healthy oceans.

Wikipedia describes three types of attacks: “hit and run,” “sneak attack,” and  “bump and bite.” Most of us have been told sharks are mindless eating machines, consuming everything in their path, and that they often attack humans because they mistake us for seals. Of the three categories of shark attack listed above, only the “hit and run” version is believed to be a case of mistaken identity. These attacks occur in murky, often shallow water. When the shark takes a bite of a human, it realizes it is not its desired prey and changes course. In a “bump and bite” attack, the shark circles and bumps the victim before taking an “exploratory” bite or two to determine if the human creature is worth eating. The “sneak attack” is the most fatal. This is where a shark lies in wait and attacks in a calculated hunt.

It’s true there have been a lot of shark attacks this summer, including eight in less than a month at the North Carolina shoreline. Around the world, there are about 75 shark attacks reported each year. Most of these are attacks by great white, tiger, and bull sharks. Every year on average, less than one person dies from a shark attack. In contrast, the pro-shark contingency likes to point out that lightning kills 38 people annually. (Not much comfort if you encounter an “exploratory” shark bite, but still.)

And now back to Mary Lee and Twitter. Her Twitter count of more than 87,000 followers is impressive, but it pales in comparison to the leaders identified online at Twitter Counter. Katy Perry heads the list (as of August 10) with nearly 74 million followers; Justin Bieber is second with just over 66 million; and Barack Obama comes in third with close to 63 million followers.

By the way, Mary Lee, who is 16 feet long and weighs 3,500 pounds, would appreciate it if you could please add to her count of Twitter followers. She would be embarrassed to find out how far she is behind Justin Bieber. Her Twitter address is @MaryLeeShark. Mary Lee also has a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Maryleeshark.

Sorry, I meant to do a back-to-school themed article for September, but got distracted by an article about sharks in the Wall Street Journal. You are on your own regarding lunch box recipes and other helpful tips. You can reach me at julieakross@comcast.net

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