A sign warning swimmers about fluctuating bacteria levels is posted at Mackerel Cove on Bailey Island in Harpswell on July 28. A woman was killed by a great white shark in the area the day prior. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Witnesses to the fatal great white shark attack in Mackerel Cove in Harpswell said what began with two swimmers enjoying themselves in the shallow water ended with screams.

Tom Whyte, a neighbor who knew 63-year-old Julie Dimperio Holowach, was in his office overlooking the cove when it happened, the Portland Press Herald reports. Holowach was wearing a wetsuit and was 10 to 15 feet behind her daughter, who did not have a wetsuit. They were laughing and giggling at first, but one started screaming when the shark attacked

“It looked like she was pulled under,” Whyte told the Press Herald. “I saw her under water and just her hands were above water.”

Holowach’s daughter swam toward her mother, then swam toward shore, screaming for help. Steve Arnold, an Alabama man renting a house near the shore, heard the laughter. The scream made him look at Holowach, according to the Press Herald.

“I saw her lift a little bit out of the water … 12 to 18 inches maybe,” Arnold said.

A tooth fragment from a great white shark was recovered after Holowach, a New York City resident, was attacked while swimming in Mackerel Cove off Bailey Island about 3:26 p.m., Patrick Keliher, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Resources, told reporters during a Tuesday press conference.

Keliher called the attack “a highly unusual event.” But he said that great white sharks aren’t “something new,” with recorded sightings in the Gulf of Maine going back into the 1800s.

The Maine coast is at the northern edge of the great white shark’s range, but the fish are not commonly spotted off Maine. There are two to three sightings of great white sharks off the Maine coast each summer, according to the National Oceanographic Data Center, with recent sightings near a popular Kennebunkport beach in 2019, near Stratton Island off Old Orchard Beach in 2018 and near Wells in 2017.

But a warming Gulf of Maine has led scientists to believe such sightings could become more common in coming years.

“If I was a betting person, I would suspect that in the next three or four years, or maybe sooner, there’s going to be a greater presence of these sharks up here,” University of New England marine scientist James Sulikowski told the Associated Press in late 2017. “Whether our area is sort of a stop-over and they spend a couple days here or a couple months is what we’re trying to figure out.”

Sulikowski told CBS affiliate WGME on Monday that sharks are appearing more often as they move north from Cape Cod in search of food.

The attack was the first recorded in Maine and third in New England since 1936.

BDN Writer Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.