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Maine will have shark warning after fatal attack last year

The purple flag with a white shark silhouette will also be hoisted in Harpswell, where a woman was killed by a great white last summer

HARPSWELL, Maine — Maine state coastal parks will adopt a flag system used in Massachusetts to warn beachgoers of the presence of sharks. 

The Times Record reports that the move comes after the state’s first documented fatal shark attack last summer

The purple flag with a white shark silhouette will also be hoisted in Harpswell, where Dimperio Holowach, 63, of New York City was killed by a great white last summer. A state official says the warning flag is widely used in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which sees more white sharks than Maine.

"It was born out of tragedy," Gary Best, the state park regional manager for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, told NECN's Dustin Wlodkowski. "... We want to engage the public without alarming them."

According to the Times Record, the flag, which is purple with a white shark silhouette in the middle, will be hoisted when there is a reported shark sighting within a quarter-mile. The flag will serve as a signal to beachgoers to swim at their own risk. The flag will remain until the day following the sighting. 

Credit: AP
Jim Britt, communications director with the Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, holds a new flag that will fly if sharks are detected near Maine beaches, Tuesday, June 1, 2021, at Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Last summer Maine had its first documented fatal shark attack. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

At least three beaches will now have the warning flags. 

"This winter there certainly has been a lot of planning, a lot of talking to our colleagues at the national seashore down on Cape Cod – they’ve been instrumental in helping – guide us on some of the things that they’ve done very successfully," Art Howe, the town of Harpswell fire administrator said. 

The hope is that Massachusetts' success can be replicated in Maine. 

The state will also permanently install "Stop the Bleed" kits at all state park beaches, which will be accessible 24/7.

Since the fatal attack, the Maine Department of Marine Resources has stressed the importance of being alert and cautious while in the water. Swimmers are encouraged to avoid schooling fish and seals, which are prey for sharks. 

RELATED: Shark safety 101: Experts share tips amid growing fears

The state asks people to report shark sightings to Maine Marine Patrol or to local authorities.

The app "Sharktivity," used by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy to track shark sightings, uses crowdsourced data to reduce encounters and promote safety.

According to The Times Record, Harpswell officials haven't determined what number people should call to report shark sightings. 

Howe said the town will deem any report credible because “we don’t have the scientific background or time to validate sightings on a case-by-case basis," the Times Record reported.

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