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Swimming restricted a Maine beaches, experts say seal population factor in deadly shark attack

Dr. Greg Skomal said such attacks are incredibly rare in Maine, but great white sharks have been off the Maine coast for 'eons.'

PHIPPSBURG, Maine — Officials are urging swimmers and boaters in Maine to be on alert following Monday's fatal shark attack off Bailey Island–the first in Maine history.

Julie Dimperio Holowach, 63, of New York City was killed by a great white shark while swimming with her daughter.

State officials implemented restrictions at nearby Popham Beach State Park and Reid State Park Tuesday. 

"It's always kind of in the back of your mind that something like this could happen, but you don't think it's going to happen here," Popham Beach State Park Manager Sean Vaillancourt said. 

Lifeguards urged swimmers to only go ankle to waist-deep out of an abundance of caution. 

"It's an extremely rare event," Dr. Greg Skomal told NEWS CENTER Maine. "I'm not alone in saying I hope it's the only one we ever see."

Credit: Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07: Kipling's President, Julie Dimperio adresses the audience at Kipling's 25th Anniversary Event at Helen Mills Theater on March 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Thomas Concordia/WireImage for Kipling)

Skomal is considered the northeast's foremost expert on great white sharks. He was integral in confirming a tooth fragment from Monday's incident was in fact that of a great white. 

"When we think of the coast of Maine we typically don't think of sharks, but we have a lot historical evidence that white sharks visit the coast of Maine and have been for eons," Skomal said. 

Skomal said a growing seal population is a large factor as to why great sharks now may be more visible along the Maine coast. 

He said federal protections for great whites and seals have allowed populations to grow over the last few decades. That combined with more seals and the perfect water temperature can attract sharks to places they may not usually be. 

"As long as that population comes back to normal levels the likelihood of seeing more sharks in the Gulf of Maine and along the coast of Maine is certainly higher," Skomal said. 

Just over the last weekend, a seal was discovered in nearby Phippsburg with bite marks consistent with a great white shark. 

There is only one other shark attack on record. Scott MacNichol was attacked while filming underwater off the coast of Eastport in 2010. He captured the incident on camera but was not injured.  

"It was coming right at me and it kind of hit me with a bit of force and pushed me through the water and at that point, I just wanted to get out," he told NEWS CENTER Maine at the time. 

Marine Patrol Officials conducted flights from Casco Bay to Sheepscot Bay searching for shark activity but did not see any. 

Members of the public are urged to stay away from areas where seals or schools of fish are present. 

Anyone who spots a shark is urged to contact their local Marine Patrol Officer immediately.