Update: The woman killed in a now-confirmed shark attack off Harpswell has been identified. Read the latest information here.
PORTLAND, Maine — A woman has died from “what appeared to be a shark attack” while swimming in Mackerel Cove off Bailey Island in Harpswell, according to Marine Patrol.
Kayakers nearby brought her to shore near White Sail Lane, where EMS responders pronounced her dead, according to Jeff Nichols, spokesperson for Marine Patrol.
The identity of the swimmer is being withheld until family is notified of the death.
On Monday, boaters in the area said they heard an unusual distress call over the radio.
“We have never heard a ‘mayday’ over our radio in all of our hours out on the water, but heard today a ‘pan-pan’ which means urgent, but not yet vessel or life-threatening,” said Stacey Guth, of Portland, who was aboard the vessel Stinkpot nearby when she heard the distress call come through. “It was for a possible shark attack not far from where we were.”
Until further notice, swimmers and boaters are urged to use caution near Bailey Island and to avoid swimming near schooling fish or seals, according to Marine Patrol.
Marine Patrol hasn’t confirmed it was a shark.
Shark attacks are quite uncommon and deaths are even more rare. There are only about four deaths from sharks worldwide each year, according to Jon Dodd, executive director of the Rhode Island-based Atlantic Shark Institute.
“Since shark attack records have been kept, dating back to 1837, there has been only one documented shark attack in the State of Maine, reinforcing the rarity of such an event,” Dodd said.
If confirmed, it would be the first shark fatality in Maine.
Dodd said sharks attack when they believe they have found a seal or some other food source.
Dave Rowe of Portland, who was aboard the boat with Guth when they heard the distress call on the radio Monday afternoon, said he noticed a lot of marine life in the area yesterday, which could have attracted the shark.
In 2010, a shark attacked a Down East diver in Broad Cove. The man used his underwater camera to fight it off.
In June 2019, a shark sighting near the Cape Neddick Lighthouse in York prompted local officials to issue advisories for the town’s beaches as a cautionary measure.
BDN reporter Troy Bennett contributed to this report.