PORTLAND, Maine — When great white sharks make appearances off Cape Cod — as one did Saturday in a terrifying pursuit of a kayaker captured on camera — questions about whether the beasts are lurking off the coast of Maine are a natural follow-up.
Scientists and fishing charter captains largely agree on the answer.
“The answer is ‘yes,’” said Rhode Island-based shark researcher Nancy Kohler. “The range does go that far north, and there have been some fairly large great whites caught off Canada.”
The massive razor-tooth fish was made one of nature’s best known villains in the 1975 Steven Spielberg horror movie “Jaws,” and is listed by the cable network Animal Planet as the natural world’s No. 1 predator — ahead of lions, grizzly bears and crocodiles. But although it’s a relatively short North Atlantic swim from Orleans, Mass., where photographer Shelly Negrotti snapped the now famous shark chase picture Saturday, the long popular belief in Maine was that the waters are too cold here for great whites.
“No, the water’s not too cold,” said Kohler.
Kohler, of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Apex Predator Program, said great whites can be found in waters as cold as the low 50s. According to the National Oceanographic Data Center, the average ocean water temperatures from Portland to Bar Harbor remain in the upper 50s and lower 60s from June through September.
The key to attracting great white traffic is food, which for the large sharks consists of marine mammals such as seals.
“There are plenty of seals,” said Ethan DeBery, captain of a Popham Beach-based fishing charter and Sequin Island ferry service. “Who’s to say there aren’t big sharks sneaking around? I would never be surprised if there was a really big shark seen off the beach. If a credible person told me he saw one up close and personal [near a Maine beach], I would believe them 110 percent.”
Capt. Dave Paul of Morning Flight Charters out of South Portland, whose offerings include shark fishing expeditions, said he has never personally seen one, but “there’s no question they’re around.”
Capt. James Harkins of the Portland-based Atlantic Adventures said he saw three great whites while leading deep-water fishing trips last summer.
“We had one that came up alongside us that was longer than our boat,” Harkins, who estimated that shark’s size at 30 feet in length and 3,500 pounds, said Monday. “A lot of people are oblivious to the fact we have great white sharks in the Gulf of Maine, but they’re here.”
Another of the great whites Harkins said he encountered last summer grabbed hold of his bait and dragged it 500 feet into the depths of the ocean before ultimately getting away with the free — albeit annoyingly tethered — meal.
Harkins, whose vessel was featured during the Discovery Channel’s popular “Shark Week” programming after a fisherman aboard landed one of the largest blue sharks ever caught off the coast of Maine, takes most of his fishing expeditions out to between 38 and 52 miles offshore. But he warned that the big sharks could easily make their way closer to waters shared by swimmers and kayakers.
“With great whites, one of their favorite foods are seals,” he said, “so I wouldn’t rule out a situation in which they went in closer to the beaches.”