This cautionary sign was put up at Mitchell Field in Harpswell. Contributed / Paul Plummer

Harpswell has had eight reported shark sightings since it implemented a hotline a month ago, according to its shark sighting web page.

Because the reporting system is based on citizen sightings, however, it’s unknown how many sightings were of great white sharks, specifically. 

The most recent sighting was reported July 24.

The Maine Department of Maine Resources recently confirmed 14 incidents of white sharks off the Maine coast so far this year. Last year, 29 individual sharks were detected off the Mid- and southern coast.

“My instinct is that they’ve been in this area longer than we assume,” said Art Howe, who oversees emergency management in Harpswell.

Howe said he’d love to get photographs of the sighted sharks to identify them. He cautioned that sunfish, with prominent fins that protrude from the water, are often mistaken for sharks. 


When a call comes into the shark hotline, the Harpswell harbormaster, recreation director and emergency management officials receive alerts.

“One of us will call back, and we always err on the side of caution,” said Harbormaster Paul Plummer. 

With each reported sighting that’s close to a public swimming area, a purple flag with a white shark silhouette is hoisted near that area. The flags can now be found at Mackerel Cove Beach, Cedar Beach, Mitchell Field and Stover’s Point Preserve.

“We’ve been using the internationally recognized purple shark flag system to indicate the presence of a shark in nearby waters,” Howe said. 

Ever since a fatal shark attack off Harpswell’s Bailey Island in 2020, there has been more awareness and caution about sharks, he said.

Julie Dimperio Holowach, 63, of New York City, was swimming at Bailey Island when she was killed by a great white shark, the first recorded fatal shark attack in Maine.


Since then, municipal officials have made plans for how to respond to a “near-shore shark encounter close to public swimming areas.” 

“We’re not going to tell people they can’t swim, but we want them to have information that will be useful to be respectful of what’s in the water so they can make their own determination to risk level,” Howe said.  

Other beaches in Maine have also taken precautions.

In Scarborough, Greg Wilfert, a lifeguard of 50 years at Scarborough Beach State Park who swims in the ocean almost daily, said his team is prepared in the case of what he said would be an unlikely shark sighting, but he’s not very concerned.

“I hear the concern, but I have a staff of 13 lifeguards and they’re constantly looking out,” Wilfert said. “If there’s a shark spotted, we’ll shut the beach down for an hour.” 

Wilfert added: “I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve seen two sharks — one in ’95 and one about 10 years ago.” 


Harpswell’s beaches do not have lifeguards and often are crowded, Howe said, further raising his concerns.

He advises people to swim and kayak in pairs, avoid areas of congregated bait fish or regular seal populations, avoid swimming if the water is foggy and avoid wearing shiny jewelry while swimming. Sharks also tend to be more active at dawn or dusk, or times of low light, he said.

“When we enter the water, we enter their domain,” he said. 

The cause of the increase in sightings along the coast appears to be multifaceted. The most obvious reason for a growth in the local shark population is that there are more seals, Howe said.

“Maine biologists have said that seal populations have exploded in Maine,” he said. “There are infinite answers to why seals are migrating. The Gulf of Maine is heating almost more rapidly than any oceanic body of water anywhere across the globe, and that affects the movement of bait fish, seals and sharks.”

With more bait fish comes more sharks, Plummer said.  

“The sharks have been chasing their own bait, that being the seals,” he said. “The seal population has a bigger influence on sharks than the warm waters.” 

To report a sighting, call 1-800-501-1111. 

Comments are not available on this story.