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Great white shark sightings cause two closures at Popham Beach State Park

The sightings happened on July 31 and July 27 in the same area of water, according to lifeguards.

POPHAM BEACH, Maine — Hundreds of Mainers and tourists flocked to Popham Beach State Park on Monday, a typical sight on a warm August afternoon.

You wouldn't know it on the surface, but underneath the surfers and swimmers is where two great white shark sightings happened within six days.

The first white shark was reported by a longtime surfer, according to Maine State Parks Lifeguard Coordinator Sean Vaillancourt.

"Any time we have a sighting that's confirmed, we will close the water just to be safe," Vaillancourt said. "They are here... it's a place where there is a lot of food."

Vaillancourt said the second shark sighting on Sunday was reported in the same area of water between Little Fox Island and Heron Island.

Just three hours after the beach closer was lifted Monday morning following Sunday's shark sighting, hundreds of families were at the beach, many in the water.

James Black said he came to Popham Beach with family and friends to celebrate his birthday; the visit was weeks of planning, he said.

"It came up that they shut the beach down, but no worries, we haven't seen any sharks today. We'll just be out here enjoying the beach," Black said. "I think statistically it's so rare you have a better chance of getting in an accident driving here than being attacked by a shark."

Dr. James Sulikowski, a marine scientist at Arizona State University, has studied sharks off the coast of New England since 1999 and said two closures in one week is unusual.

Sulikowski added more shark sightings don't necessarily mean more sharks.

"It's not something we normally see, but we got a lot more eyes on the water, new tech, people looking, and there are more sharks. It's probably a combination of both of those," Sulikowski said. "Was it the same shark? Just hanging around in that area, I mean it is possible if they find good food."

Sulikowski said afternoon beachgoers who splash around on a boogie board shouldn't worry about a shark, and the risk falls on swimmers and surfers who go early in the morning when visibility is low.

"No matter what precautions we take, it's still their environment," Sulikowski said. "Stay close to shore, stay close to the lifeguards, and everything should be OK."

The University of New England has partnered with the Maine Department of Marine Resources to install new buoys that can scan tagged sharks as they swim by.

UNE researchers already placed one buoy in Saco Bay, and a buoy provided by the Maine DMR is expected to be placed off Popham Beach in the near future.

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