SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — “Shark Week” for Mainers hasn’t just been on television.
Less than three weeks after New England’s first recorded great white shark attack on a human since the 1930s, a shark reportedly was seen lurking in the waters near Harpswell’s Great Island Boat Yard on Wednesday. On Thursday, Capt. Jim Harkins of the Portland-based Atlantic Adventures, who last month testified to having witnessed fearsome great whites off the coast of Maine, was one of several dozen participants at the 14th annual Casco Bay Classic MDA Sportfishing Open at Port Harbor Marine in South Portland.
The Discovery Channel’s popular “ Shark Week” promotion, now in its 25th season, wrapped up Thursday night as well.
Harkins on Thursday recalled his most memorable great white encounter on the first day of the local charity tournament — where the shark category does not include the protected great whites — while motoring his Atlantic Adventurer and four eager anglers out to his favorite deep sea fishing spots.
“We had him hooked on a line up at the bow of the boat, and we could see his tail fin sticking out past the stern,” Harkins said of the encounter.
The Atlantic Adventurer is a 30-foot-long boat, so Harkins said he estimated the apex predator was at least that long, and he defended the claim against skeptics who argue that the largest great whites ever recorded as being caught were around 23 feet in length.
Even the mechanical shark used as the almost supernatural man-eating great white in the 1975 blockbuster movie “Jaws” was only 25 feet long.
But according to Guinness World Records, “There are many claims of huge specimens up to [33 feet] in length,” although the record book noted that “few have been properly authenticated.”
To Harkins’ point, some the largest great whites on the official record — including a 20-plus-foot shark off Prince Edward Island in 1988 — have been discovered in the cold North Atlantic waters that flow past the coast of Maine.
And Harkins has been in those waters nearly all his life.
“I saw those [Internet] comments saying ‘Oh, Harkins doesn’t know what he’s talking about,’” he said Thursday. “But I didn’t just start fishing out here yesterday. I’ve spent decades on fishing boats out in these waters.”
He got his first job on a deep-sea fishing boat at age 11, he said, and as a child, would frequently jump in the ocean for swims during breaks in the action. One day, he said, he hopped in next to a five-gallon bucket hanging overboard to collect water to wash the deck, and a hungry mako shark shot up from underneath him.
Luckily, Harkins said, the aggressive shark clamped its razor-sharp teeth on the bucket, not Harkins.
“I never, ever jumped off the boat again after that,” he said.
On Thursday, as the Atlantic Adventurer headed out about 40 miles off the coast of Maine in search of codfish and, of course, sharks for the MDA Sportfishing Open, no great white dorsal fins popped up in the area.
But sharks were certainly on the roste. Brunswick native Chris Wegner and Buffalo, N.Y., resident Adam Steck — who joined Vanessa Tarr of Portland and Tony Gelardi of Kennebunkport as the anglers on the excursion for Day 1 of the tourney — each hooked a blue shark before the Atlantic Adventurer motored back into Port Harbor Marine for its weigh-in.
The crew was able to haul Wegner’s 9-foot shark into the boat, but Steck’s shark broke the line after an hourlong tug of war. Blues were not among the sharks counted in the tournament, but the Adventurer did bring in the first fish of the day in the codfish category, however temporarily claiming first place with a 25.5-inch cod.
The tournament continues through Saturday.
“I’m not going to lie: That was a dream come true,” Wegner said after landing the shark, estimated at about 225 pounds. “That was wild. You could feel it in every muscle, right from your [butt] up through your shoulders.”