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Residents report other signs of shark’s presence after fatal attack in Maine

A woman died in a shark attack off Bailey Island near Harpswell, Maine, on Monday.
A woman died in a shark attack off Bailey Island near Harpswell, Maine, on Monday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

A spokesman for the town of Harpswell, Maine, said two seal carcasses with possible shark bites were reported to the town a day after a great white shark fatally attacked a 63-year-old seasonal resident off Bailey Island.

Arthur Howe, the town’s fire administrator and emergency management agent, said that a boater about 30 miles up the coast, off Port Clyde, also reported Tuesday a possible shark fin in the ocean.

Julie Dimperio Holowach, a retired fashion executive, was killed by the shark while swimming 20 yards off Bailey Island in Harpswell on Monday afternoon. It was the first fatal shark attack in the state’s history.

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The seal carcasses reported to the town were “physically altered … They were not intact,” said Howe, who said he is forwarding the reports to state officials.

A spokesman for the Maine Marine Patrol did not immediately return messages on Wednesday.

Howe said the close-knit town was in shock and feeling “fragile emotions.”

Town officials have not closed beaches, opting instead to urge people to take precautions. Signs were being prepared on Wednesday to warn beachgoers of the danger, he said.

“We’re trying to impart the fact that the world is changing out there,” he said. The sharks have “begun to gravitate a little bit north,” following their food supply, seals.

He urged people to swim only in daylight hours, minimize the use of wetsuits, which mimic the coloring of a seal, swim in pairs, swim in shallow water, and be conscious of being near bait fish or seals that sharks might be hunting.

“People should be cautious and be cognizant and aware of their surroundings,” he said.

Meanwhile, researchers are planning to try to learn more about the sharks coming to Maine waters.

James Sulikowski, an Arizona State University professor, said his group, which has moved to Arizona from Biddeford’s University of New England, has deployed listening devices to detect pings from sharks that were tagged by researchers off Massachusetts.

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From 2015 to 2018, “We saw a steady increase in the amount of sharks that we were detecting” on devices deployed in southern Saco Bay and off Biddeford, he said. The research has been conducted in conjunction with Massachusetts state shark expert Greg Skomal and the Massachusetts-based Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

The devices were not put in the water during 2019 while his research group moved, he said. But they are in the water again and researchers plan to pull them up soon and download the data they’ve recorded, he said.

He noted that sharks, which are on the rise off Massachusetts, are “mobile and they’re transient. The ones on the Cape can come up to Maine on Sunday and be back to the Cape on Monday."

“They’re just wandering around, looking for food,” he said. “If there are food sources far away in Maine, they’ll stop off and take advantage of it.”

He said the results will be shared with the public. “Whether it’s a week, a month, or two months, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

Experts have recommended these tips to avoid a great white shark encounter:

- Stay close to shore, where your feet can touch the bottom.

- Never swim near seals, which are a favorite meal for sharks.

- Be aware of your surroundings and avoid murky or low-visibility water, which makes it difficult for you to see sharks (and for sharks to see you’re a human).

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- Don’t wear shiny jewelry (because the reflected light resembles a fish) and keep splashing to a minimum (erratic movements can attract sharks).

- Don’t swim at night, and don’t go out into the ocean alone, especially at dawn or dusk. If you want to go swimming, surfing, paddleboarding, or kayaking, take some friends and stay in a group.

The International Shark Attack File website also says beachgoers should exercise caution in areas between sandbars or near steep dropoffs because those places are “favorite hangouts for sharks.”

The website also suggests that people avoid wearing bright-colored clothing, refrain from going into the water if they’re bleeding, and keep their pets out of the water.

Emily Sweeney of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com