Sue Fontaine captured this photo of a white shark attacking a seal off Owls Head on Maine’s midcoast on July 10. She described it as a “horrifying” ordeal that lasted six minutes. Photo by Sue Fontaine

State and local officials have logged more than a dozen reports of great white sharks off the Maine coast so far this year. And biologists say there are likely to be more white sharks here in the years to come.

In the past five weeks, the Maine Department of Marine Resources has confirmed 14 incidents of white sharks, according to state shark biologist Matt Davis.

The first record was of a wounded seal with bites on June 12, which biologists consider a strong indication that a white shark was in the vicinity. The most recent were two white shark sightings on Friday that were confirmed by the department.

Some of the confirmed incidents were physical sightings, including four during a “seal predation event.” Two tagged sharks were detected via a satellite transmitter.

“There have been a couple of areas that have had increased activity, in particular Seguin Island and the spot just west of Popham Beach at Hermit Island (in Phippsburg). That area had quite a few white sharks last year, nearly 20 different individuals,” said Davis, who studied great whites in South Africa and Florida before coming to Maine three years ago.

A boat seen in the distance off Phippsburg on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Public vigilance has increased since a woman was killed by a white shark in Harpswell two years ago, the state’s only fatal shark attack. The town has set up a hotline for people to report shark sightings, logging six reports so far this summer.


But just how many white sharks may be in Maine waters – and whether there has been increased activity – is unclear, Davis said, because research on the sharks here is relatively new.

Since last year, the Maine Department of Marine Resources has placed 28 receivers along the coast from York to Boothbay Harbor to detect white sharks that were tagged by the White Shark Conservancy in tandem with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. There are a total of 32 receivers out in the Gulf of Maine, including those put out by other organizations, tracking more than 200 tagged white sharks.

Maine biologists have not yet begun to tag great white sharks, but they will, Davis said. In the year and a half since the state began tracking the sharks, the department has detected 38 white sharks on its receivers.

A sign warns visitors of possible sharks at Potts Point Preserve in Harpswell last week. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“We’ve only been doing this for a year, maybe a year and a half. So we don’t have several years’ worth of data to determine if these areas are regular spots where sharks aggregate. We’d need to continue the acoustic monitoring to determine if it’s an annual occurrence.”

But we likely can expect white sharks in greater numbers in Maine in the future, Davis said, given that the overall population is larger in the western North Atlantic than it once was, and there is a robust seal population, a prime food source of great white sharks.

It also may be as ocean waters warm, the migratory species arrives in Maine earlier in the spring, or lingers later in the fall, Davis said. But he doesn’t think warming oceans are the driver for white sharks being detected in greater numbers now. It’s more the food source, he said.


“There is evidence that recovering seal populations, which are an important prey source, coupled with fishing protections, have allowed white shark populations in the western North Atlantic Ocean to slowly begin recovering following a decline in the 1970s and 1980s,” Davis noted. “Therefore, it is plausible to consider there may be more white sharks that migrate into our waters than there were a couple decades ago.”

White sharks have been a federally protected species since 1997. Grey seals, which were often killed by fishermen as a nuisance more than 50 years ago, gained protected species status in 1972.


Maine native Sue Fontaine, who winters in Orange Park, Florida, and spends summers with her husband, Pete, on their boat off the Maine coast, got a close-up view of a white shark eating a seal last weekend off Owls Head.

Sue Fontaine captured this photo of a white shark attacking a seal off Owls Head at 7:40 a.m. on July 10. Photo by Sue Fontaine

Fontaine posted some 80 photos of the large shark eating the seal on Facebook, and promptly started calling shark biologists to help identify the species, which she wasn’t readily able to do. But given the nature of the fast and brutal attack, Fontaine thinks it was a great white.

She estimated the shark was more than 12 feet long. And the shark consumed the 4-foot seal within six minutes. 


“It was horrifying,” Fontaine said. 

In 2020, Julie Dimperio Holowach died after a shark attacked her while she was swimming near her summer home on Bailey Island in Harpswell, a shark that biologists later identified as a great white using a tooth sample.

Since then, efforts have been made for the first time by the Department of Marine Resources and the town of Harpswell to locate white sharks and warn swimmers.  

The town rolled out a streamlined call-in system this year, after it partnered with the Cumberland County Communications Center. The town has logged six shark sightings since June 14.

A woman watches her two dogs play in the water near Potts Point Preserve in Harpswell on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The center takes the calls and passes on information to town employees who investigate. Harbormaster Paul Plummer is one. He often makes the call-back to gather more information and then decides whether a purple shark flag should be raised at one of four local beaches.

Shark flags are positioned at Mackerel Cove Beach, Cedar Beach, Mitchell Field and Stover’s Point Preserve, which is owned by the local land trust. The town, or land trust, flies the flag for about 24 hours after a verified sighting to warn the public of a possible shark, and to swim at their own risk. 


Two weeks ago, two viable reports were made. Last weekend, the town received three reports. Plummer errs on the side of caution.

“On July 4 I talked to a woman who had been at Lowell’s Cove and observed a sharp right angle on the dorsal fin she saw. That made her confident it was a great white,,” Plummer said. “That is a pretty vivid description for the average person wildlife-watching.”

Harold Caswell of Cape Elizabeth reported seeing a large shark on June 4 at Lowell’s Cove in Harpswell. Caswell said he and two others saw bait fish jumping out of the water so they stopped at the cove to watch. They then saw a dorsal fin rise out of the water for a few seconds, then disappear. 

Sue Fontaine of Port Orange, Florida, captured this photo of a shark attacking a seal off Owls Head at 7:40 a.m. on July 10. Fontaine, who grew up in Portland, contacted several government agencies that study great white sharks to get the shark in the photos correctly identified, but Fontaine believes the larger fish is a great white based on her observation of the larger fish killing the seal, a “horrifying” ordeal that lasted just six minutes. Photo by Sue Fontaine

At first, they thought it might be a porpoise, but Caswell said porpoises typically rise out of the water in an arc before diving back down, and this fish did not. The fin rose straight up, then went straight down. Caswell believes it was a great white shark.

“It looked pretty large to me. It was significant,” Caswell said. “Certainly, it makes you think a little bit more about activity in the water. I’ll be less inclined to go swimming now when there are bait fish around.”



It’s well documented great white sharks have been coming to Maine waters for centuries, said Arizona State University shark biologist James Sulikowski. He thinks we may see more in Maine in the future.

“I think with the combination of more eyes on the water, the new technology that allows us to track them, as well as the (large) seal population that is around, it wouldn’t surprise me if sightings continue to increase,” said Sulikowski, who previously studied white sharks at the University of New England.

“In addition, the sharks on (Cape Cod) are most likely looking for less competition for resources, like habitat and food. With that combination of factors, it’s likely we’re going to see more white sharks in Maine waters.”

People wade into the water on Hermit Island in Phippsburg on Thursday. Maine shark biologist Matt Davis says the area has seen increased white shark activity in the past few years. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

As evidence, Sulikowski points to a white shark he tagged in North Carolina in April that first went to Cape Cod and now is in Maine. “Bobby E,” as the 12-foot male white shark is called, was detected in Saco Bay at 1 p.m. Thursday. By 8 p.m. Thursday, the tagged shark was detected swimming around Jewell Island in Casco Bay, just northeast of Peaks Island.

“It’s really interesting. This might indicate the future trends that we might see,” Sulikowski said. 

In Massachusetts, the increased prevalence of white sharks off the coast in the past decade has led to regular beach closures on Cape Cod, people frequently logging sighting on shark-tracker websites, and videos of white sharks eating seals often appearing on social media. 


Receivers placed in the ocean don’t tell the whole story when it comes to the prevalence of white sharks.

They do not identify white sharks that are not tagged, nor do they pick up the tagged sharks outside of the receivers’ range, which is only about 500 to 1,000 meters. 

People paddle board out into the ocean off Phippsburg on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“When you’re looking at the ocean, that’s a fairly small area,” said Davis, the Maine shark biologist. “And it’s important to remember that this technology does not send real-time alerts. We have to physically go out and download the data on a laptop. It’s great for tracking trends over time, but it doesn’t have much use for immediate public safety.”

In Phippsburg, Harbormaster Doug Alexander wasn’t the least surprised the state’s receivers have picked up tagged white sharks near Hermit Island. Local lobstermen have seen great whites off the Phippsburg peninsula for years, he said, and now everyone is looking for them.

“What happened was we had that fatal attack there, is what brought everyone’s attention to it. We knew they were there, but nobody was looking for them,” said Alexander, 70.

But when the Phippsburg native was a boy, reports of great whites were uncommon.

“When I was real young and started lobstering, it was a rarity that one of these guys tuna fishing would bring a shark in when (the white sharks) were chasing the silver hake,” Alexander said. “They’d catch one every once in a while. But back then I don’t remember the seals being around.”

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