The state has launched a new online tool to help people identify and report potential great white sharks off Maine’s coastline.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources said the new website and form are aimed at both helping the public report sharks and contributing to research on the presence of great white sharks in coastal waters in Maine and other New England states. The website was launched roughly 11 months after the first documented fatal shark attack in Maine, although research into the sharks’ presence in Maine has been ongoing for years.

“White sharks have been in Maine waters for a long time, but there is still a lot to learn about their habitat use and migration patterns,”
Erin Summers, director of the DMR’s Division of Biological Monitoring, said in a statement. “The information we gather through this form will help researchers better understand this apex predator. It will also provide the public with an opportunity to engage in this important research and to gain insight into the dynamic marine environment of the coast of Maine.”

The reporting tool is available at maine.gov/dmr/science-research/projects/whitesharkresearch/sharkID.html.

White sharks have been spotted periodically off Maine’s coast for decades – or longer – but there is growing interest in whether their migrations through Maine are become more frequent. Cape Cod in Massachusetts has experienced a significant increase in great white shark activity over the past decade due, in large part, to the growing population of seals that are the sharks’ favorite prey.

Seal populations are also growing in Maine. And some scientists have speculated that warming waters in the Gulf of Maine due to climate change also could shift great white shark migration patterns as they follow their food.

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Last July, a New York woman died after being attacked by a great white shark while swimming near her summer home on Bailey Island in Harpswell. It was the first documented fatal shark attack in Maine history, and biologists speculated that the great white likely mistook the swimmer for a seal.

There were several additional suspected sightings of great white sharks in Maine in the days and weeks after the attack, one of which was confirmed by the DMR.

The new reporting tool is aimed at helping document and confirm or debunk potential sightings. In a release from the agency, Summers noted that ocean sunfish or mola as well as basking sharks – which can grow to 30 feet in length by feeding only on plankton – are frequently mistaken for great whites.

Visitors to the online tool will be asked to report the day, time and location of the suspected sighting along with key details, including the animal’s size, behavior and whether there were other animals in the area at the time. Users can also upload photos or videos of the sighting.

That information will then be reviewed by a DMR scientist, who will reply with several days with information about the sighting or to request additional information. Verified shark sightings will be incorporated into the research on shark behavior being done by the New England White Shark Research Consortium and uploaded to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s “Sharktivity” application.

Shark attacks on humans are extremely rare in the United States – and exceptionally so in New England – and the animals occupy a critical niche in the ocean ecosystem. Maine is home to more than a half-dozen shark species, ranging from the small and fairly common spiny dogfish to the much more rare (or rarely seen) basking shark.


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