A woman was killed in an apparent shark attack off the coast of Bailey Island, Maine, in what would be the first such death recorded in the northeastern state of the United States.
The state marine patrol said a witness saw the woman swimming when she was injured. Two kayakers helped the woman reach the shore, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Marine Resources identified the woman as Julie Dimperio Holowach, 63, of New York City.
A second woman swimming with the victim was not injured.
“Until further notice, swimmers and boaters are urged to exercise caution near Bailey Island and avoid swimming near school-age fish or seals,” the Marine Patrol advised.
A New England shark expert, James Sulikowski, told the Portland Press Herald that a shark may have mistaken the victim for food in what could be the “first documented death in Maine.”
According to the International Archive of Shark Attacks maintained by the Florida Museum, there has only been one previous report of an unprovoked attack in Maine waters.
“In this area of Maine and depending on how close to the shore the event occurred,” Sulikowski said, “I suppose it was a white shark. We can easily be mistaken for a seal … like a shark’s dinner.
On Facebook on Sunday, the Sulikowski Shark and Fish Conservation Laboratory posted images of a seal that appeared on a nearby beach. It appeared to have been bitten by a large target with a bite radius of about 19 inches.
According to the laboratory, marine biologists have detected great white sharks in southern Maine that have been tagged off the coast of Cape Cod.
Ocearch, a group that labels and tracks big whites, said it was determined to speed up data collection to help understand how to keep people safe.
“Ocearch is saddened to learn of the death of a woman in Maine today from what appears to be a shark bite,” he said on Twitter.
“This tragedy highlights the need to step up efforts to learn more about the sharks’ habitats and movements along the northeast coast. Ocearch has tracked white sharks to the Gulf of Maine before, but increased collaboration in key locations like Massachusetts and Maine will allow us to inform local communities in a more comprehensive way. “
White shark activity has increased in the Northeast as seal populations grow. Earlier this month, a pygmy sperm whale was spotted on a beach at Martha’s Vineyard with what appeared to be wounds caused by a large target.
Soon after, a night ranger spotted a “large, triangular fin” nearby, Sam Hart, director of trustees for Vineyard and Nantucket, told the Martha’s Vineyard Times.
“We will put up signs. We will be vigilant. Our staff is on high alert. “