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Maine Shark Attacks in 2024: Everything You Need to Know

I’m a proud Maine surfer.


I can’t imagining paddling out in anything less than 5 millimeters of neoprene.


I often spot lobster boats sailing on the horizon when I’m waiting in the lineup.


And I’ve grown accustomed to chasing swell from winter storms - which often means I’m surfing in snowy conditions and in freezing temperatures 


But one thing I had never thought about (until recently) was sharks. 



For years, it was widely believed that most sharks, and especially the notorious Great White, couldn’t be found in the waters of Maine - it was simply too cold.


But, these understandings were challenged when a Great White attacked and fatally wounded a swimmer in July of 2020.


And, it left many wondering the same questions: What was a shark of this size doing in Maine waters? And had they always been here? 

How Many Shark Attacks Happen in Maine? 

The attack in the summer of 2020 currently stands Maine’s only fatal shark attack, its only attack by a Great White, and just the second unprovoked shark attack in state history.


Maine’s first “attack” is probably better described as an encounter anyway - where a Porbeagle took interest in a diver’s camera, leaving the diver shaken, but uninjured. 


Shark sightings are more common - just a few weeks ago, a friend of mine showed me a video of a large dorsal fin poking out just behind the breakers at Reid State Park, one of my favorite surfing beaches.

It was a large fin, and one that I can only guess belonged to a Great White. 


Regardless of the presence of these large predators, historical records will tell you that any type of sighting or encounter is exceedingly rare - and fatal attacks? Much, much rarer. 


What Kind of Sharks Live/Migrate In Maine?

In total, 23 different species of sharks populate the Gulf of Maine, including the Great White, Mako Shark, Basking Shark, Sand Tiger Shark, Blue Shark, Porbeagle, and Thresher Shark. 


Of these species, it’s no surprise that Great Whites pose the biggest threats to humans.


And new research has shown that the presence of these apex predators is much greater than previously thought. In fact, 60 different Great Whites have been detected in Maine waters since scientists began tracking them in 2020. 


In recent years, it’s believed that the number of Great Whites in Maine waters has increased dramatically - suggesting that despite Maine’s near-perfect track record when it comes to shark attacks, encounters with Great Whites may become more common. 

This recent increase can be attributed to warming sea temperatures, allowing Great Whites to venture further north for longer periods during the year. Additionally, efforts to protect harbour

seals (a favorite food of mature Great Whites) have led to a population explosion.


In light of this, it comes as no surprise that Great White sightings have seen a steady increase in recent years. 


What Months are Sharks Most Active in Maine?

Many species of sharks found in Maine waters are seasonal visitors, and you’re most likely to spot one when the water is warmest, during the late summer and early fall. Great Whites are no exception - they’re most commonly found in the Gulf of Maine from July to October. 


The presence of these apex predators certainly poses a threat to summer beachgoers, and even if sharks almost never target humans, encounters with them are a real possibility. 


How to Protect Yourself From a Shark Attack

With a recent increase in Great White populations, it’s important to understand the risks and how to mitigate them when entering the water in Maine.


Ever since the fatal attack in 2020, authorities have been quick to shut down beaches in the wake of shark sightings.


Obviously, never enter the water if that’s the case. 


Even if there has not been a shark sighting in the area, it might not be the best idea to swim or surf when seals are present, as Great Whites are known to feed near their colonies. 


Additionally, sharks are most active at dusk or dawn. So I would recommend staying out of the water at these times during the summer months. However, the fatal 2020 attack ocurred in the mid afternoon - so it’s important to stay alert at all times. 


Luckily for surfers, the height of shark activity in Maine rarely coincides with good surf (the summer swell can only be described as abysmal), so I usually never have to think about sharks.


It’s only at the start of fall - when sharks are still around, and when autumn waves start to coax surfers back into the water - when you might worry about a possible encounter. 





What To Do If You Witness a Shark Attack in Maine

If you witness an attack from shore, call 911 immediately. Most breaks in Maine are pretty isolated, so quick action is essential to ensure the victim receives necessary medical attention. 


If you witness an attack from the water, it’s important to keep calm and help the victim to shore, if possible. In severe cases, apply a tourniquet about 2-3 inches above the wound with a shirt sleeve, pant leg, or any other piece of fabric. 

Although highly unlikely, it’s necessary to be prepared in case of an attack - preparation and quick action will save lives. 


Shark Attacks in Maine: Conclusion


Evidence suggests that Great Whites have always populated the Gulf of Maine.


So while their population has been on the rise in recent years, the fact that there has been only one attack by a Great White in the state’s history points to the fact that these predators seldom choose to interact with humans.

This single attack stands as an outlier, and the risks posed by the presence of these sharks is much smaller than we think. 


While encounters with sharks remain rare, it's still important to stay informed about their behaviors and take necessary precautions.


Understanding these risks will allow us to enjoy all that the beautiful Maine coastline has to offer, while respecting its natural inhabitants that share it with us.

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