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NY Woman Killed in Rare Maine Shark Attack

Maine's first fatal shark attack in recorded history appears to be a case of mistaken identity.
Bailey Island, Harpswell, Maine

Bailey Island, Harpswell, Maine

Shark attacks in Maine are rare, but on Monday the state suffered its first fatal shark attack in recorded history. A great white shark bit 63-year-old Julie Dimperio Holowach off Bailey Island (in Harpswell, Maine), killing her in the first recorded fatal attack by a shark in the state of Maine and the third in New England since 1936. Her daughter was also swimming nearby. 

Kayakers in the vicinity brought Dimperio Holowach, a New York City resident who summers in Maine, to shore where she was declared dead.

A recovered tooth fragment was used to confirm that the attacking shark was a great white. Dimperio Holowach was wearing a wetsuit when she was attacked. It is believed that the shark thought she was a seal.

“It’s all so surreal,” Tom Whyte told the Boston Globe, looking out at the three lobster trap buoys where the attack had occurred. He had swum for the first time in two years near those same buoys, two days prior.

Great white shark expert Greg Skomal told the Globe people tend to think of Cape Cod as the northernmost feeding ground since summer sightings occur frequently off the shores.

But the Cape tends to serve as a “rest stop” along great white sharks’ travels.

“Some stay around Cape Cod and feed,” Skomal said. “Others will stop by for varying amounts of time and keep moving into the Gulf of Maine where there are ample amounts of seals.”

Nick Whitney, a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium, said the shark likely mistook Dimperio Holowach for a seal; she was wearing a wetsuit at the time of the attack.

A day earlier, on Sunday, a seal with a 19-inch-wide bite mark, likely from a great white shark, washed ashore in Phippsburg, which is roughly seven miles by boat from Mackerel Cove.

Attacks on humans are rare, despite the frenzy around them.

In September 2018, a 26-year-old college student from Revere, Mass., was attacked by a suspected great white shark while bodyboarding off Wellfleet and died after making it back to shore.

Before that, you’d have to go back to 1936 for a fatal shark attack in New England waters: a 16-year-old was killed off Mattapoisett in July of that year. 

You can read this New York Post article about the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act that has increased seal numbers and may be contributing to shark attacks on humans.