Fatal Maine shark attack spurs great white tracking efforts at these Seacoast beaches

Ian LenahanThe Portsmouth Herald

Published August 25, 2022

RYE — Bobbing in the Atlantic Ocean off town beaches are four orange buoys, all designed to track the movements of tagged great white sharks swimming along the coastline.

The shark-tracing buoys placed this summer are located off Pirates Cove, Foss, Cable and Sawyers beaches in an effort spearheaded by the Rye Fire Department in partnership with numerous regional agencies. Dropped in shallow water, reaching depths of about 25 feet during high tide, they can be seen by sunbathers and swimmers.

Rye Fire Chief Mark Cotreau said the town-funded initiative came in response to the first recorded fatal shark attack in Maine history in July 2020. New York City resident Julie Dimperio Holowach was swimming off Bailey Island, where she was fatally bitten. It was determined later to be a great white shark after scientists examined a tooth fragment. The woman was 63 years old.

The town of Rye has purchased four buoys that can track the movement of tagged great white sharks within 1,500 feet of the buoy's locations. The buoys would compile the information about the shark, such as its location and time spent within the designated distance.

The town or Rye has purchased four buoys that can track the movement of tagged great white sharks within 1,500 feet of the buoy’s locations. The buoys would compile the information about the shark, such as its location and time spent within the designated distance. Provided/Rye Fire Department

 

Labeled by National Geographic as the “largest predatory fish in the world,” great white sharks are found in cooler coastal waters across the world, can grow to upwards of 20 feet long and weigh more than two tons. 

Shark data in name of public safety is the goal in Rye

Cotreau assured there is no reason to believe the New Hampshire Seacoast has a “significant shark problem,” though tracking potential movements of the species benefits public safety.

Stokes said after Hampton pulled its two buoys from the water in 2020, there was no logged information on great white shark movement.

Seacoast shark sightings?

This summer, Stokes has been made aware of two white shark sightings confirmed with photographs in the region. The first was in early July, when a roughly 6-foot white shark was spotted off Plum Island, while the second was at the Isles of Shoals late last month.

But not every sighting turns out to be the feared fish. Both Cotreau and Stokes said mola mola, a type of ocean sunfish resembling a shark, have been spotted and mistakenly identified as sharks in the past.

“Along Rye, we haven’t had to empty any of our beaches for a great white. If we do get a shark report where people are swimming, in an abundance of caution, Rye’s policy is to bring people out of the water for a period of time to get the animal time to swim along,” Cotreau said. 

The most recent report of a shark in Rye was made about two weeks ago by a group of surfers, though the alleged sighting turned out to be unfounded, Cotreau said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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