bailey island

New Details Released in Maine's 1st Deadly Shark Attack

The woman, who is from New York City, was pronounced dead after being taken ashore by kayakers after swimming off Bailey Island after the attack, which authorities said was from a great white shark

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The woman killed in Maine's first known deadly shark attack Monday has been identified as a 63-year-old woman from New York City who had a summer home in the community.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources on Tuesday identified the woman as Julie Dimperio Holowach, 63. She was attacked by a great white shark, authorities said Tuesday.

"It is tragic but also an isolated incident that we're kind of working our way through, that the state's never seen," said Major Rob Beal of the Maine Marine Patrol at a news conference.

Julie Dimperio Holowach was swimming with her daughter off Harpswell's Bailey Island when she was attacked.

Dimperio Holowach was swimming with her daughter about 20 yards from shore off Harpswell's Bailey Island when she was attacked just before 3:30 p.m., Beal and Maine Marine Patrol Commissioner Patrick Keliher said.

"Stay away from seals, don't go where there are lots of schools of fish," said Dr. James Sulikowski, a shark researcher and professor at Arizona State University. "Seals are going to feed on those schools of fish, so if you see a sick and injured seal that's swimming oddly and doing weird things, stay away from them."

Other tips for avoiding a shark attack included staying out of the water at dawn and dusk and not wearing anything shiny when swimming.

While swimmers are being urged to follow those safety guidelines, local beaches are not being closed.

"We feel like the prudent thing to do at this time is to just express caution within the area," Keliher said.

He said the decision not to close beaches was made in conjunction with marine authorities in Massachusetts, which dealt with a deadly shark attack in 2018 and has had frequent sightings in its waters in the past few years.

Dimperio Holowach's daughter was uninjured in the attack and swam to shore, Keliher said. Kayakers brought Dimperio Holowach to shore, but she was dead before first responders could get to the sand.

"I can't stress enough the thanks that we have for the efforts that they made. In the face of that type of situation, the fact that they were able to kayak into that area and help bring the body back into shore was nothing more than miraculous," Keliher said.

Arizona State University professor James Sulikowski had already been researching sharks in Maine when one fatally attacked a swimmer. Sulikowski sat down with NECN to discuss how rare the attack is

While it's not clear if it is related, a seal's body was found on the shore at nearby Phippsburg with a bite wound 19-inches across, according to a tweet Sunday from the Sulikowski Shark & Fish Conservation Lab. The laboratory is researching sharks in southern Maine and collaborating with renowned Massachusetts shark researcher Greg Skomal and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

Keliher confirmed Tuesday that there had been reports of seals with bite marks in the area, but he said that reports of great white sharks in the area aren't unusual.

"This is a predator-prey relationship issue," Keliher said. "It's the presence of seals that are really the driver here."

Reaction in Bailey Island and Harpswell

Dimperio Holowach was well-known and liked in the town of Harpswell, according to Beal.

"Julie and her husband are well known…respected individuals and the community is really at a tough juncture," he said.

Her former employer, fashion company Kipling Americas, was saddened by her loss, a representative said in an email.

"She was an incredible leader who brought out the best in her team and colleagues. She will be missed by our industry, our company, and as a friend to so many. Our thoughts are with her family at this time," the representative said.

People renting and living in the area said this type of gruesome attack is so unusual and so shocking in Maine that some people won't be getting back in the water for a while.

"It's a little bit kind of unnerving now," said Robert Van Der Feyst, who is visiting Bailey Island for a vacation. "Yesterday I was swimming out at the island there. I was just saying to myself, 'this is so safe.'"

Like many people in the area, Van Der Feyst quickly heard reports that a woman had been bitten by a shark around mid-afternoon Monday.

"I'm definitely not going to go for a long swim today," he said.

Van Der Feyst says he will eventually but plans to check his surroundings the whole time.

"It's not like I'm going to stay out of the water, but I'm going to keep my eyes open," he said.

The Prior Shark Attack in Maine

Keliher repeatedly stressed how rare this type of incident is in Maine, noting it was the state's first deadly shark attack ever and its second attack overall.

That other attack came 10 years ago, when a porbeagle shark attacked a diver's camera off Eastport.

"He took a couple of bites at the camera. When he did that I was pretty much petrified," Scott MacNichol said at the time. "If you watch the video, you can hear me screaming underwater."

Last year, a white shark was sighted about a mile off of Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport, Maine. Beachgoers were warned about the sighting, but the beach wasn't closed at the time.

"Though sightings are relatively rare, white sharks have long been known to be seasonal inhabitants of the Gulf of Maine, and they have been observed preying on seals and porpoises in Maine's coastal waters," the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy's Cynthia Wigren said in an email. "Sightings data, catch reords, and tagging data indicate white sharks occur in the region form the early summer through the fall."

A great white shark was spotted in Maine, prompting officials to warn visitors.

While Maine may not have frequent shark sightings, Cape Cod has. In 2018, it had Massachusetts's first deadly shark attack for 80 years, when a man boogie boarding in Wellfleet was fatally mauled. Since then, beaches have been closed for shark sightings, sometimes multiple times a day in late summer, when sharks are most commonly found in the area's waters.

White sharks have been drawn to Cape Cod by the growing populations of seals on its shores.

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