Authorities in Maine said Tuesday the shark that killed a woman in a rare attack off the state’s coast was a great white.
The shark bite killed Julie Dimperio Holowach, 63, of New York City, the Maine Department of Marine Resources said. The shark fatally bit Holowach off Bailey Island on Monday while she was swimming with her daughter, who was not hurt.
Scientists were able to later identify the shark as a great white using a tooth fragment, state officials said. Great whites aren’t common in Maine, which is the northern tip of their range, but recent summers have brought reports of sightings of the giant fish.
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Holowach was swimming with her daughter off Harpswell's Bailey Island when she was attacked just before 3:30 p.m., according to officials.
The Maine Marine Patrol said a witness saw Holowach swimming off the shore of Bailey Island when she was bitten. Two kayakers helped her get to shore and an ambulance provided further assistance, but she was pronounced dead at the scene, the marine patrol said.
The rescuers were a man and woman in a rented tandem kayak, said Jeff Cooper, co-owner of H2Outfitters on the island, which offers instruction, rentals and sales of kayaks.
The kayakers were on the shore when one of them saw something breach, and realized something was wrong, Cooper said.
“They happened to be right there at the scene. They were courageous enough to jump in and retrieve the victim,” Cooper said.
One of the kayakers grabbed Holowach, and the other paddled to get her back to shore, said Cathy Piffath, the other co-owner. The kayakers asked not to be identified.
Stephen Arnold said he was working inside his home in Maine on Monday afternoon and looking out his window at the time of the attack. He saw the deadly encounter as it unfolded.
"I saw the two swimmers, right there at that rock ledge. They were actually splashing, and laughing, and talking with each other," he said. "And then all of a sudden, I saw the trailing swimmer being lifted somewhat out of the water,. And she started screaming."
The tragic shark attack took place just 20 yards from shore.
"The lady screamed, thrashed for a few seconds, and then just went limp," Arnold said.
Arnold called 911 while the two kayakers brought the victim to land.
Who was the victim?
Holowach was a seasonal resident of Harpswell. She and her family own property in the area and are well known in the community, which was shaken by her death, said Rob Beal, major of the Maine Marine Patrol.
"Julie and her husband are well known... respected individuals and the community is really at a tough juncture," he said.
Friends described her to The Boston Globe as generous, sharp and athletic.
"Julie loved live. And she had a huge heart," said Elizabeth "Buff" Harrington.
Another neighbor described Holowach as "welcoming, warm, civid-minded," and said she "always had a smile on her face."
Holowach is a former president at Kipling North America, a fashion accessory business. She retired in 2016, according to the Globe.
"She was an incredible leader who brought out the best in her team and colleagues," the company said in a statement. "She will be missed by our industry, our company, and as a friend to many."
Holowach also served on the board of directors of Sea Bags, an accessory company based in Maine.
"Julie's longtime knowledge of the retail and consumer goods industry were reflected in her contributions to our business," said Don Oakes, CEO of Sea Bags. "It's with a heavy heart that we share our feelings of loss with Julie's family."
How rare are shark attacks in Maine?
There had previously only been one recorded unprovoked shark attack in Maine, and it was 10 years ago off Eastport, Maine Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said. He said that bite involved a different species of shark.
He described Monday's attack as “highly unusual,” but said it’s cause for vigilance among beachgoers.
“The rarity of this event does not mean it’s not going to happen again,” Keliher said.
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.
Is it safe to swim?
The Marine Patrol has urged swimmers and boaters to use caution near Bailey Island and to avoid swimming near schooling fish or seals. Large sharks like great whites prey on seals, which are common off Maine.
Two coastal state parks, Popham and Reid, are not allowing swimmers beyond waist deep water, state officials 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 include staying out of the water at dawn and dusk and not wearing anything shiny when swimming.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.