THERE'S A curvy lady named Mary Lee cruising off the coast of the Jersey Shore.
Mary Lee's a great white shark, arguably the most feared and most misunderstood animal on the planet, and just after 8 a.m. Thursday, the electronic tag that has been tracking her since 2012 "pinged" about 10 miles off the coast of Cape May County, between North Wildwood and Stone Harbor.
At 1:04 p.m., Mary Lee pinged again, this time about 12 miles off the coast a little farther north, right on the border of Avalon and Sea Isle City.
It's important to be level-headed about the realities of shark attacks and . . . da duh, da duh . . . forget that. Mary Lee's as big as a damn Volkswagen Beetle with a grill full of double-edged steak knives. It's time to freak out. The experts agree.
"Mr. Nark, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It's really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks, and that's all," said Matt Hooper from Oceanographic Institute, from the movie "Jaws."
Makes you afraid of going near a water fountain let alone swimming, and that's why the Daily News assumed Capt. John Stevenson of the North Wildwood Police Department would be running around on the beach Thursday, screaming at all the bathers to get out of the ocean.
"The ocean temperature is still in the 50s and there is no one in the water and she is still 10 miles out so no panic mode," Stevenson said coolly in an email after that assumption was made.
OK, he's right. Take a deep breath, put down the 20 cc's of strychnine nitrate, and steer your figurative Orca back to port. Mary Lee makes us all feel mortal with our gangly limbs and flabby butts and that's fine. Hooper was right about sharks and Mary Lee also has 9,300 Twitter followers so she's even that much better than us.
"Be glad, because white shark populations are dropping. We want to see the white sharks come back," said Marie Levine, executive directors of the Shark Research Institute in Princeton. "There's no reason to panic. Sharks are always around us. This is just a good sign."
Thursday's ping on OCEARCH.com was the closest Mary Lee's ever been to the beach in New Jersey in her nearly 20,000-mile journey since OCEARCH researchers tagged her in Cape Cod on Sept. 17, 2012. She was named after the mother of OCEARCH expedition leader Chris Fischer.
Mary Lee's been to Bermuda, out to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and she's spent a fair amount of time swimming along the coasts of the southeastern United States. In the past couple of days, Mary Lee's been off the coast of Delaware and Maryland, and if the tracker is accurate it appears she was even in Chincoteague Bay.
You can track her travels at www.ocearch.org/profile/mary_lee/.
Levine wondered whether Mary Lee could be pregnant and heading closer to shore to birth some pups. She is 3,456 pounds after all.
"If she is pregnant, and that's a big if, it's a good thing because there is usually a feeding inhibition," Levine said.
When asked via Twitter whether she was expecting, Mary Lee was offended.
"Just because a shark has a full figure you assume she's preggers?" the shark replied.
Although you're more likely to die in a head-on collision with a Volkswagen Beetle on the turnpike, the most infamous shark attacks ever recorded did happen in New Jersey, back in 1916. The "Matawan Man-Eater" attacked five people along the Jersey Shore, killing four. The attacks were credited to a "rogue" great white shark.
There hasn't been a fatal attack since, although the Daily News did write a story about a diver bitten on the leg by a sand tiger shark at Adventure Aquarium back in 2009.
Levine said no one knows for sure whether the great white was to blame for all the attacks in 1916. Two of the fatalities occurred in brackish Matawan Creek and that fits the characteristics of the world's deadliest shark, the bull shark.
"Nobody really knows for sure. The habitat suggests it was bull shark," she said. "Sharks sometimes do strange things, though."
Wait a minute, like what?
Mary Lee, according to her Twitter account is just looking for saltwater taffy. Seal flavor, she promised.
On Twitter: @JasonNark