The July 27 death by shark attack of a woman off Bailey Island, and the resultant state-imposed safety restrictions, didn’t deter people from visiting Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth later in the week. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

CAPE ELIZABETH — Crescent Beach was packed with swimmers and suntan-seekers July 31, and a sign at the entrance that prohibited wading past one’s waist was perhaps the only indication of the tragedy that had occurred farther north four days earlier.

Following the July 27 death by great white shark attack of Julie Dimperio Holowach off Harpswell’s Bailey Island, the Maine Department of Marine Resources urged people to exercise caution when in and around Maine’s coastal waters, and to avoid schools of fish or seals – prey for sharks.

The state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Bureau of Parks and Lands last week restricted Popham Beach (Phippsburg), Ferry Beach (Saco), Crescent Beach (Cape Elizabeth) and Reid (Georgetown) state parks to waist-deep water access. The agency lifted the restrictions at three of the beaches Monday but left them in place at Reid State Park because of a lifeguard shortage.

Natalie Haynes of Topsham looks on as her son wades in the waters of Casco Bay off Broad Cove Reserve in Cumberland. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

Harpswell advised waist-deep access last week, and Falmouth’s harbor master planned to spend more time on water patrol and less at the town landing. An advisory at Cumberland’s Broad Cove Reserve to wade only to ankle level – instated after a shark was seen off Cousins Island in Yarmouth – was lifted as of July 30. The state Marine Patrol also received two other reports of sightings near Popham Beach but could not substantiate any of the three reports, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Beachgoers interviewed July 31 were shocked by Holowach’s death – Maine’s first-ever reported shark fatality – but were largely undeterred from accessing the ocean at shallow levels, given the rare nature of the incident.

Luis Pabon of Tyler, Texas, visiting Crescent Beach, said a friend warned him on Facebook not to go into the ocean. He said he felt safe going waist deep, and the tragedy “really wouldn’t change my mind, because I like the water, and I won’t live in fear.”

“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,” Pabon said. “It can happen anywhere, really.”

Linda Derse of North Conway, New Hampshire, said she visits Crescent Beach when visiting Maine, and that the death “didn’t deter me in any way.” The incident did surprise her, but “it’s been kind of a weird year, so who knows?” she said.

“The waters are getting warmer, and they’re moving,” Derse’s friend, Betty Schores of Hampden, said of sharks. The attack was “very sad, very said,” she added. “It’s just probably one of those flukes.”

Pointing to the ocean, Derse said, “that’s their home.”

Phil Mullin, a manager at the nearby Lobster Shack at Two Lights, said he hadn’t heard discussions among customers about the incident. Augustine Cachu, a server at Spinney’s Restaurant & Guest House near Popham Beach, said customers are “actually quite surprised that the sharks are out this far, but we have plenty of seals, so it makes sense that they find their way eventually. And the waters are getting warmer, so it’s not really surprising.”

Traffic at Popham had slowed down a little, “but we still have quite a few people that come and enjoy the beauty of the beach and the water itself,” many of whom didn’t care for the ankle-deep wading restriction imposed at the time, Cachu said.

Natalie Haynes of Topsham, sitting on the Broad Cove Reserve beach while her son waded, said she summers at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where sharks are more common, and is vigilant about avoiding seal populations where sharks may be looming nearby. She said she felt safe at Broad Cove.

“It is a tragedy,” Haynes said. “But we’re also really big ocean and shark advocates, so we feel like we have to respect the terrain.”

“In Maine we’re not used to this,” said Conor McGrory while sitting outside Town Landing Market in his hometown of Falmouth. “There are shark sightings, and that happens once every couple years.

Still, the graduate student said, “it’s the first fatal shark attack in Maine, and this is climate change. It’s not going away.”

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