Fatal Shark Attack in Maine Strikes Fear in Beachgoers Across New England

Posted: Aug 03, 2020 4:45 PM
Fatal Shark Attack in Maine Strikes Fear in Beachgoers Across New England

Source: (Wayne Davis/Atlantic White Shark Conservancy via AP)

Catching COVID-19 isn't the only thing New England beachgoers have to worry about this summer; they also have to be wary of shark-infested waters. 

Last week a woman from Maine was killed by a shark, the first-ever fatal shark attack in that state. 

Great White Shark sightings are common in certain parts of the region, especially on the lower portion of Cape Cod. However, this summer the sharks seem to be back in large numbers and spotted in some unusual locations.  

Towns like Chatham, Wellfleet, and Nauset, all located on Cape Cod, have become hotspots for Great Whites, as they have a heavy influx of seals, the predator's favorite source of food. A 2016 survey found there are an estimated 425,000 gray seals on the Cape, according to NOAA Fisheries

The attacks are typically rare, and even if they do occur, they are not normally fatal. However, in 2018, 26-year-old Arthur Medici became the first person to die of a shark attack in Massachusetts since 1936, after he was repeatedly bitten by a Great White at Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet. 

These sharks are typically seen in the warmer waters on the south shore of Massachusetts. However, the fatal attack that took place in Maine last week was very rare for the region.

Last Monday, 63-year-old Julie Dimperio Holowatch was fatally attacked by what was reportedly a Great White shark in southern Maine. Holowatch was swimming with her daughter off of Harpswell's Bailey Island that afternoon before she was bitten by the shark. 

Authorities were able to determine that the shark that most likely bit her was a Great White through a tooth fragment left behind. 

Two kayakers attempted to rescue Holowatch, but her injuries were too severe and she was pronounced dead at the scene. A witness from a nearby home said he watched in horror as the shark lifted the woman out of the water; he could hear screaming.

Holowatch was wearing a black wetsuit, and it was reported that the shark most likely mistook her for a seal. Her daughter was miraculously unharmed. She was not in a wetsuit, but a blue bathing suit. 

It's rare for sharks to be seen as far up as the Maine Coast, due to the fact it is the northern part of their range, but in the past few years, more sightings have occurred in the state. 

Some claimed the water around the Maine island was abnormally warm, at a temperature of 64 degrees, a phenomenon that hasn't happened since the 1960s. However, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries shark researcher Gregory Skomal said the Maine coastline is often ignored as a migratory path for the creatures. 

The tragic incident makes beachgoers in New England wonder just how safe they are every time they decide to take a swim. 

Each time there is a shark sighting lifeguards and other beach personnel are supposed to close public beaches. However, this isn't a full-proof protection plan, as the aquatic giants can often go undetected.

Last week alone there were 40 sharks spotted in New England. Of those 40, there were 25 sightings on Cape Cod.

As for Maine, the shark that bit Holowatch is still out there. Since her attack, multiple dead seals have washed ashore with large bite marks, according to WGME

Authorities have urged people not to swim near the area, or if they do, only go waist-deep.