In the first recorded fatal shark attack in Maine’s history, a woman was killed this week by a great white as she swam in the ocean off the state’s coast, the authorities said.
The woman, identified as Julie Dimperio Holowach, 63, was swimming with her daughter about 20 yards offshore near Bailey Island when she was attacked on Monday afternoon, Commissioner Patrick Keliher of the Maine Department of Marine Resources said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Nearby kayakers brought her to shore and emergency response workers were called to the scene, where she was declared dead. The daughter, whose name was not released, was not injured and was able to swim back and get out of the water, he said.
The commissioner said that a recovered tooth fragment was used to confirm that it was a great white shark.
“This is a very highly unusual event,” he said. “In fact, this is the only confirmed fatality in Maine waters from a shark attack.”
“Since sharks — including great whites — do venture into Maine’s coastal waters, we urge people to avoid swimming or paddling near seals and schooling fish, which are prey for sharks,” Maj. Rob Beal of the Maine Marine Patrol said.
Mr. Keliher said that Ms. Dimperio Holowach, a New York City resident, was wearing a wet suit when she was attacked. She owned property in the area and spent four to five months in Maine during the summers, he added.
Even as a seasonal resident, Ms. Dimperio Holowach made an impression on the local community.
“She was always the lady who had a smile on her face,” said Mary Coombs, a friend of Ms. Dimperio Holowach who lives in Bailey Island.
According to Women’s Wear Daily, Ms. Dimperio Holowach was a retired fashion industry executive who had worked at the VF Corporation and Kipling USA.
Major Beal said Ms. Dimperio Holowach and her husband were “well-known, very respected individuals” in the town of Harpswell, which is northeast of Portland.
“The community is really at a tough juncture in trying to process yesterday’s event,” he said.
Major Beal said they were also monitoring the area of Bailey Island, in Casco Bay, for sharks.
According to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, which tracks shark attacks worldwide through its International Shark Attack File, there has been only one recorded unprovoked shark attack in Maine since 1837.
In 2010, a porbeagle shark bit a diver’s camera off the coast of Eastport, according to the International Shark Attack File.
“That’s the only other one we have on record, and that was not fatal,” said Jeff Nichols, communications director for the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “It was just an attack.”
Shark attacks on humans in general are “incredibly rare,” said Gavin Naylor, program director for the International Shark Attack File. “We like to tell people there is a much higher chance of being struck by lightning than being bitten by a shark.”
The Florida Museum documented 64 unprovoked shark attacks and 41 provoked attacks last year. That was a decrease from the average of 82 annual unprovoked attacks from 2014 to 2018.
Florida has led in the number of shark attacks in the United States, followed by Hawaii and California.
While humans are not their food of choice, sharks can mistake a surfer on a board for a seal, their natural prey. Surfers and people taking part in board sports accounted for the most shark attacks, according to the Florida Museum.
Recently, a seal carcass with a 19-inch bite wound was found on a beach in Phippsburg, Maine, according to photos posted on Sunday by the Sulikowski Shark and Fish Conservation Lab at Arizona State University. The group said that it had “detected white sharks in Southern Maine that have been tagged off Cape Cod in Massachusetts.”
The cape has been a popular spot for white sharks and for seals. According to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, there have been 718 shark sightings recorded since 2016 on Sharktivity, an app that lets users flag where they spot sharks.
“Because of that increase in seals in New England, then you have of course more white sharks patrolling the area,” Mr. Naylor said. “And I wouldn’t be all that surprised if they go up to Maine.”