Let’s Talk with Tina Whittle

Great White Shark

by Tina Whittle

In Blood, Ash and Bone, the third novel in my Tai Randolph/Trey Seaver series, I created a fictitious law enforcement agency, a task force collaboration between the Atlanta Police Department and the FBI. By the time the book was released, my pretend organization was real (it was called AMMO for Atlanta Metro Major Offenders Task Force).

In Deeper Than the Grave, the fourth book in the series, I decided to paralyze Atlanta in a freak snowstorm that stranded the entire city. I decided this one month before Snowjam 2014 hit. I was literally writing the scene when I saw its true-life version playing out on my television.

And so now I’m writing the fifth book, tentatively titled Reckoning and Ruin. This one takes place in Savannah, Georgia, during the springtime. Because my protagonist is a woman who likes to be on the water, I sent her off on a fishing excursion to press a reluctant boat captain for information.

Guess what they run across? Here’s a clue.

shark fin 1

You know what this is.

That’s right, cue the soundtrack and get a bigger boat, I’ve cast a great white shark in my next book. Her name is Mary Lee, and true to how I’d written her, she showed up in the coastal waters off Savannah on April 9, almost exactly when I wrote her scene.

I tell you, the lines between fact and fiction are quite blurry at times.

No need to stay out of the water, though. Chances are slim that you and Mary Lee will get a chance to meet face to fin. People still worry, however. Thanks to The-Movie-The-Will-Not-Be-Named, sharks of any variety — but especially great white sharks – get a bad rap. But they’re not the bloodthirsty killing machines they’re made out to be. I should know, I’ve swam with them, dozens of them at the time, and I still have every limb on my body. But don’t take my word for it; check out the statistics – worldwide, annual shark attack fatalities average in the single digits or low teens. Meanwhile humans kill 11,417 sharks per hour. Per hour. Now who’s looking bloodthirsty?

Other interesting facts about these fascinating animals:

* Great white sharks can detect one drop of blood in 25 gallons of water, and they can sense blood up to 3 miles away.

* Sharks have a tongue made of cartilage called a basihyal; they use it to sample prey, to see if it is a good idea to eat it or not.

* In contrast to most fish, which tend to be cold-blooded, the great white shark is warm-blooded, so it can regulate its own body temperature, thus allowing it to adapt to different water temperatures (in Mary Lee’s case, from Tybee Beach to the Jersey Shore).

* You’re more likely to die from lightning strike, a falling coconut, a vending machine toppling onto you, or even tumbling out of bed. Seriously.

Mary Lee is a most eloquent spokesfish for her species – she’s been profiled everywhere from National Geographic to Fox News and has her own Twitter account (https://twitter.com/MaryLeeShark ). She’s 16 feet long and 3,456 pounds, and enjoys roaming the Eastern Seaboard. If you want to find out if Mary Lee is in your neighborhood, you  can track her on OCEARCH’s Shark Tracker page (http://www.ocearch.org/#SharkTracker), along with hundreds of other sharks that have been tagged and released.

One of the themes I like to explore in my series is the tension between wild and tame, civilization and nature, and having Mary Lee make a cameo alongside Tai and Trey is an excellent way to think about what scares us, what should scare us, and why it often doesn’t. People claim that sharks are infesting our waters, when the reality is, we’re infesting theirs. And it’s time we stopped being the villain and started respecting and protecting one of the ocean’s most magnificent predators.

Here’s to Mary Lee and all her kinfolk. Long may they range.

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Comments

  1. tinawhittle says:

    There was a guy along for our shark dive who didn’t know it was a shark dive…until he got on the water. He was an UNHAPPY camper,but the rest of us had the time of our lives.

  2. I am a follower of Marylou the great white shark. A few years back I was lucky enough to write a feature on her for our local paper, so I almost feel as if I know her. I applaud you for swimming with sharks. I’m sure I unintentionally swam with sharks because they are abundant in our coastal waters, but I never did it on purpose. Too much of a wimp! I’m looking forward to your next book!

  3. Thanks for all these fascinating facts. I can see them coming in handy at bar bets.