It’s entirely possible — if not likely — that when a boater off a Maine beach sees a massive shark and clears the water of swimmers, as happened Sunday off Wells Beach, the creature in question is actually a peaceful basking shark.
But the threat of a great white shark, made particularly famous by the horror movie “Jaws” and responsible for more fatal attacks on humans than any other fish, is what grabs headlines and gets people out of the surf.
Although many of the scares are cases of mistaken identity, shark experts have been consistent in saying white sharks are absolutely swimming around off the coast of Maine, as rare as legitimate sightings may be.
Here are five times the majestic great whites have been positively identified in Maine waters, in cases where there was photographic evidence, a body or the eyewitness was particularly reliable:
Capt. Pete Douvarjo of Eggemoggin Guide Service was taking two clients on a September trip out past Mount Desert Rock, when, as one of those clients later recalled, his previously conversational tone became much more serious.
Douvarjo has spent four decades on the water, has seen his share of basking sharks and can recognize the difference between their dorsal fins and those of great whites, which are more triangular. He relayed his story to the BDN’s John Holyoke:
“I don’t get scared of much out there, but this submarine, the size of my boat [was approaching], and when I realized what it was, I thought, ‘Oh my god, what do we do?’ … You put [the shark] up next to the boat and it might not have been 21 [feet long], but it was as big as the boat. The girth — I don’t even know how to explain it — I bet three guys couldn’t have linked their arms around it. It was just monstrous.”
In Passamaquoddy Bay between Maine and New Brunswick, a tour boat operator caught this video in late July.
In early August, at least three Boothbay Harbor-area lobstermen watched a great white shark feasting on the carcass of minke whale.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” one of the lobstermen, Ryan Casey, told the BDN at the time. “It was biting off chunks of the blubber. It would come up and chew at it and go back under for five or 10 minutes. A couple of times it would try to roll the whale over — I don’t know if it was biting at it from underneath or what.”
Rockport harbor master and diver Harry Goodridge would go on to become famous for his trained seal, Andre — the subject of a popular book and major motion picture.
But before Andre, there was Basil. Basil was eaten by a great white during a fishing trip out by Robinson Rock and Goodridge got revenge by harpooning the shark.
“It was a very sad and gruesome lesson for my father not to take a baby seal out with him in an open boat while hunting for sharks,” Goodridge’s daughter, Carol, later told Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine.
In another first-person account relayed by Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, Lincoln Davis caught a 13-foot white shark off Drunkard Ledge near Isle au Haut.
“My harpoon broke its back and the shark leapt clean out of the water,” Davis recalled in a story written by his niece.
Davis and his father dragged the shark back to North Haven, where they cut it open to find the remains of seals and halibut, then ate the great white’s meat, which he said tasted like swordfish.
Of course, there have been a number of other sightings reported near beaches over the last few decades, but the jury is still out on whether those were great white sharks or some similar-looking creature. And still more sightings that are verifiable and not far away, like by Cape Cod or Canada.