Shark may be making its presence known in Penobscot Bay, as cruise boat monitors injured seals

Fri, 07/31/2020 - 5:00pm

PENOBSCOT BAY — In the days following the fatal Casco Bay great white shark attack, there appears to have been at least one shark making its presence known in Penobscot Bay, namely, in the waters surrounding Camden, Rockport and Lincolnville. 

Dominic Gioia, owner of Camden Harbor Cruises, was conducting a seemingly routine morning Lobstering and Lighthouse cruise with a few passengers Monday, July 27, around 11:30 a.m.

As the sightseers pulled out of Camden Harbor, a couple of porpoises were spotted and Gioia informed passengers they should keep their eyes peeled for marine activity in the water as previous sightseers had spotted porpoise, seals, sunfish and the occasional shark in the past. 

“I was telling them a story about how just last week we were watching a pod of porpoises and then saw a big splash and one flew out of the water and did a few flips in the air,” Gioia recalled. “It looked like something knocked it out of the water. It landed and swam away very fast, while the others dispersed.” 

As the sightseers reached the area of Deadman’s Point in Rockport, on the seaward side, a boy, 8, exclaimed “Wow, what’s that!” prompting Gioia to turn around just in time to spot what he described as a very large fish, probably 12 to 14 feet long, surface approximately 15 to 20 feet away from the vessel. 

“I was a bit stunned and said it looks like a huge dolphin or small pilot whale, but when he went back down in the water he didn’t dive down like a dolphin or porpoise and there was no blow hole,” Gioia said. “I spoke a bit too soon identifying it. Because once I got the full viewing I changed my identification to the passengers as a big shark of some sort.”

Stopping the boat, the passengers patiently, and eagerly, waited to see if the creature would surface once more, but to no avail. 

“It was calm so we could see miles of flat water around the boat,” Gioia said. “The dorsal fun was a bit curved so it didn’t instantly register as a shark until it went back under water. No dive like a dolphin and no blowhole. I kind of thought it was a huge Mako shark but I have never seen one that big before and they usually move much faster.” 

On Tuesday, Gioia learned a dead seal had been found on the edge of Lincolnville Beach with a large bite mark out of it. 

On Wednesday, around 9:45 a.m. at the north end of Camden’s inner harbor right off Sherman’s Point, Gioia found a dead seal with one of its back flippers bitten off. 

As the Maine Department of Marine Resources has urged individuals to do, Gioia contacted DMR to report the shark sighting and the dead seal in Camden. Gioia also informed Camden Harbor Master Steve Pixley of the sightings.

Gioia also reported that a local Camden bait boat saw a shark Wednesday in front of Curtis Island feeding off the Menhaden (bait fish) they were trying to catch.

“It jumped out of the water while catching fish,” he said. 

Thursday, a reportedly large fish attacked and ripped their net when they were hauling in their catch in Camden.

“Ripped it so much they are unable to use it anymore,” Gioia said. “Over 20 foot tear in [the] net.”

“I know one thing for sure, my kids are not swimming in the bay for a while,” commented Gioia. 

Friday afternoon, DMR spokesman Jeff Brown said of Maine shark sightings: “we've had now three reports of shark sightings although they've all been down in the Casco Bay region.” 

A Friday afternoon press release from DMR noted there were two unconfirmed shark sightings Thursday and one confirmed great white shark sighting Friday near Pond Island Ledges, east of Bailey Island, near Harpswell. 

“We urge swimmers and others recreating in or on the water, including people in paddle craft to avoid schooling fish and seals, which are prey for sharks,” DMR said in the news release. 

Some state parks have water access restrictions in place since the initial Casco Bay incident. 

Popham Beach State Park and Reid State Park are restricted to waist-deep water access (the lagoon at Reid State Park remains open).

Ferry Beach State Park and Crescent Beach State Park remain restricted to waist-deep water access.

All other coastal Maine State Parks are allowing regular water activity. to waist-depth.

The Department will continue to monitor shark presence in Maine waters, and notify local municipalities and ensure the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has the necessary information to take action in order to ensure safety of individuals. 

“The reports we’ve received of sharks, combined with more observations of seals with injuries that are consistent with shark bites, plus data that confirms that sharks are active within the Gulf of Maine from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia means we will continue to emphasize caution for anyone recreating in and on our coastal waters for the remainder of the summer,” said Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher, in the news release.