George the Giant Shark Visits Florida for the Winter

February 7, 2018 Updated: February 7, 2018

George is a great white shark but he isn’t really a giant—he was only 10 feet long and weighed just over 700 pounds when a shark research group tagged him in the waters off Nantucket, Massachusetts, in October 2016 (though he probably weighs over half a ton, now.)    

But George really is visiting Florida. And video evidence shows that sharks his size are comfortable swimming within a few yards of humans. (It can be assumed the humans are less comfortable.)

George is one of about 30 great whites being tracked via radio beacon by a nonprofit group called OCEARCH. It started fitting sharks with satellite trackers in 2012 and hopes to eventually attach beacons to 60 of the fearsome predators.

George was tagged about a year ago off the coast of Nantucket. His beacon surfaced on Sunday, Feb. 4, off Highland Beach, a campsite on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness Trail in Everglades National Park, according to the Miami Herald.

This is his second surfacing close to shore. Trackers at OCEARCH are waiting for one more ping from his radio beacon before they pronounce him a winter visitor.  

“We’ll see where the next one shows up, but that’s pretty cool,” Bob Hueter, a senior scientist at Mote Marine Lab and chief science adviser at OCEARCH, told the Miami Herald.

The group has been getting data from George for the past 18 months as he traveled up and down the Atlantic coast, swimming about 4,500 miles. He showed up three times around Florida last year, and in January of this year, sent a signal from the Gulf of Mexico west of Key West.

Great whites don’t generally come into shallow water, said Everglades National park spokeswoman Denese Canedo.

“It’s outside their normal habitat [in deep waters] and it is very, very rare that they would occur in our waters or our vicinity,” she told the Herald. “Our waters are very shallow and it’s just not conducive.”

Great whites don‘t feed on people—regardless of what Hollywood says. Their diet is mostly composed of whales and seals. There have been two major whale strandings recently along the Florida Keys and the Gulf Coast.

Twenty-five pilot whales beached along the coast from Kice Island, south of Naples, Florida, to Highland Beach on Jan. 25, according to the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.     

On Jan. 16, 81 false killer whales stranded themselves on Hog Key. 

Also, a right whale surfaced off Panama Beach, north of where George turned up, on Jan. 18, NOAA reports. These enormous marine mammals come south to give birth each winter.

With all that food around, it is no surprise that George might come by for a snack.

Savannah being tagged. ( screenshot)
Savannah being tagged. (Screenshot via

Sharks can be hard to track. They don’t need to come up to breathe, and their radio tags only ping satellites when the sharks come to the surface. 

George might be just offshore, eating his fill, and no one would be the wiser. Or he might have departed for even warmer climes. Until he decides to cooperate, the folks at OCEARCH won’t know.

The OCEARCH crew can say that there are at least two other great whites active in the Florida Gulf, TCPalm reported.

A 12.5-foot female named Miss Costa pinged a satellite just south of Marathon and Big Pine Keys, on Monday, Feb. 5.

On Jan. 31, an 8.5-foot female named Savannah surfaced near Clearwater Beach. Savannah was tagged in March 2017 and had covered more than 4,000 miles traveling as far north as Nova Scotia, Canada before returning to warmer southern seas.


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