(FloridaToday.com) - A year ago Tuesday, researchers tagged a great white shark off Cape Cod, dubbed her "Katharine," and fitted her dorsal fin with a satellite tracking device.
The rest is history.
Katharine's journeys since — more than 6,700 miles total — have captured the imagination of researchers and shark enthusiasts and sparked a media feeding frenzy. She's practically royalty.
Each new "ping" from Katharine brings new revelations, researchers say, as do the signals from other sharks tracked in real time. They're proving sharks don't just roam at random. They're driven.
"They're all doing different things," said Bob Hueter, director for the center for shark research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.
Hueter, a primary scientist for the nonprofit OCEARCH team that's tracking Katharine and dozens of other sharks, said the tracking shows sharks seeking food and reproduction areas, some of which ought to be protected.
Katharine surprised researchers by venturing into the Gulf of Mexico, during almost the hottest summer months. Researchers had thought great whites only did that during winter.
Katharine wasn't the first shark OCEARCH had tagged, but almost every media market the 14-foot-long great white passed by seemed to fall for her. She became all the rage on social media, too.
Her Twitter feed, @Shark_Katharine, boasts more than 16,000 followers.
One recent tweet: "What I don't understand is why humans are scared of sharks and not the oceans in general. Lots of things to harm you out here — not just us."
Mary Lee and Genie — other great whites tagged by OCEARCH — also have gained thousands of online fans.
After being tagged, Katharine headed south for the winter, usually staying close to shore.
By January, she'd reached waters off the Kennedy Space Center, where she lingered several miles offshore for days, before heading north into Volusia County. In February, she was tracked back off Flagler Beach, swimming roughly 35 miles north from near Port Orange in one day. An aerial photo of Katharine, which OCEARCH released via Twitter in February, showed the shark near Flagler Beach.
After zigzagging up and down the Florida coast for a while, Katharine looped around the state's southern tip, almost to Texas, then back around Florida, all the way up to the Carolinas.
OCEARCH's website shows Katharine's most recent "ping," on Aug. 18, near the Continental Shelf, north of Myrtle Beach, SC.
OCEARCH is tracking about 20 sharks in the Atlantic and dozens more globally. Katharine was named in honor of Katharine Lee Bates, a Cape Cod native and songwriter best known for her poem and song "America The Beautiful."
The real-time tracking has opened up the mysterious travels of great whites. For one, they swim south much faster and dynamicly than once thought.
These awesome hunters can explode in quick bursts of speed, estimated conservatively at 30 mph.
Shark researchers already knew great whites migrated to the Southeast in late fall and early winter, but they don't know much about where they go over the long term or what they do where.
One shark, Mary Lee, popped up 200 yards off Jacksonville Beach early last year, prompting the researchers to alert local authorities.
That great whites are being tracked so close to shore might be scary for some swimmers, but the researchers are quick to point out that their "hits" have huge errors that can be several miles and that the tracking is not intended for shark warnings.
Instead, they hope to reveal where these apex predators go and why, while raising awareness of the great white's plight — and that of other sharks worldwide.
Researchers say there's little to fear from Katharine or her ilk.
There has never been a documented great white attack off Florida.
Track OCEARCH's sharks
Track sharks on OCEARCH's site: www.ocearch.org