A woman has been killed in an apparent shark attack off the coast of Bailey Island, Maine, in what would be the first such death on record in the north-eastern US state.
The state marine patrol said a witness saw the woman swimming when she was injured. Two kayakers helped the woman get to shore but she was pronounced dead at the scene.
A second woman who was swimming with the victim was not injured.
“Until further notice, swimmers and boaters are urged to use caution near Bailey Island and to avoid swimming near schooling fish or seals,” the marine patrol advised.
New England shark expert James Sulikowski told the Portland Press Herald it was possible a shark mistook the victim for food in what could be the “first documented fatality ever in Maine”.
According to the International Shark Attack File kept by the Florida Museum, there has been only one previous report of an unprovoked attack in Maine waters.
“In this area of Maine and depending on how close to shore the event occurred,” Sulikowski said, “my guess is it was a white shark. We can easily be mistaken for a seal … as a shark’s dinner.”
On Facebook on Sunday, Sulikowski’s Shark and Fish Conservation Lab posted images of a seal that washed up on a beach nearby. It appeared to have been bitten by a great white with a bite radius around 19in.
According to the lab, marine biologists have detected white sharks in the south of Maine that have been tagged off the coast of Cape Cod.
Ocearch, a group that tags and tracks great whites, said it was determined to accelerate the collection of data to help understand how to keep people safe.
“Ocearch is saddened to learn about the death of a woman today in Maine from what appears to be a shark bite,” it said on Twitter.
“This tragedy highlights the need to ramp up efforts to learn more about sharks’ habitats and movements along the north-east coast. Ocearch has tracked white sharks to the Gulf of Maine before, but more collaboration in key locations such as Massachusetts and Maine will allow us to inform local communities in a more comprehensive way.”
White shark activity has been on the increase in the north-east, as seal populations have grown. Earlier this month, a dwarf sperm whale was seen at a beach on Martha’s Vineyard with what appeared to be wounds caused by a great white.
Soon after, a night ranger spotted a “large, triangular fin” nearby, Sam Hart, trustees director for the Vineyard and Nantucket, told the Martha’s Vineyard Times.
“We’ll be putting up signs. We’re going to be vigilant. Our staff is on high alert.”