Shark Week 2020: Maine’s First Fatal Shark Attack

Photo by Elianne Dipp on

Here it is: Shark Week 2020. This has long been one of my favorite times of the year, mainly because I have an excuse to profess my undying love for sharks for an entire week. Though this year, the week has been tainted by a sad and unfortunate tragedy in Maine’s waters. No more than a couple weeks ago, a woman was swimming off of an island in southern Maine with her daughter and was attacked by a great white shark. The undisputed theory behind the attack was that this woman was misidentified as a seal because of her wet suit and its exploratory bite caused enough damage for her to die of blood loss. It is Maine’s first fatal shark attack on record.

The media exploded around this event. While most articles published do a good job of explaining the rarity of not only being attacked by a shark but also the regularity of sharks visiting our waters and how normal this has become, there have been other articles that have sensationalized the attack and painted a negative portrait about sharks. It’s no secret that when Jaws was released as a summer blockbuster in 1975, it created waves of terror with the concept of a large predator stalking innocent people at beaches. People were afraid to go in the water. Others chartered fishing boats in order to go out and catch sharks in an effort to cull their own fears about these ancient beasts. It practically destroyed the great white shark population in the north east Atlantic ocean and has perpetuated acts of “shark culling” in several other countries, namely parts of Australia, and South Africa.

Because of protections based on the animals, the population has begun to come back and because of global warming and rising ocean temperatures, these sharks have begun to migrate further north, namely to areas of the north Atlantic that would have otherwise been too cold many years ago. All of these very real, very understandable reasons are still lost on most people who see the sudden emergence of sharks in Maine as frightening. Because of articles sensationalizing the attack and blaming it on protection laws for sharks, many people are immediately rethinking their summer plans in Maine (even when the Corona Virus hasn’t been enough to deter them thus far…)

Working for a sporting goods store with a rental fleet that includes sea kayaks, it’s come to my attention that people have been asking our guides whether or not they’ve seen any sharks. Mind you, these guides are doing limited trips now with very short distances and are staying pretty close to the harbors they leave from. I’d like to point out something to those of you who think that sharks in Maine is something novel and terrifying.


Just because the media made you suddenly aware of them doesn’t mean you all have to suddenly stop doing things in the ocean. What do you think people do in other coastal states and countries where sharks are out and about on a regular basis? Educate yourselves, take precaution, sure…but don’t spread false stories and declare your opinions as facts.

I just glanced at an article written for Yahoo! News and the writer said that during the Maine attack, the woman was launched out of the water (as described by witnesses). Didn’t happen. Way to be a dick and dramatize someone’s tragedy for your own personal gain.

I think the worst article title I’ve seen is from The Guardian: Rare shark attack in Maine may be linked to marine protection efforts. Seriously? While the article goes on to mention that shark attacks are rare, has a measly sentence about the millions of sharks that are killed every year, and includes a quote about the oceans still being a “wild place”, the title is basically implying that the attack in Maine was directly because of protections based on great white sharks. Are readers to assume that this never would have happened if people were still allowed to fish for sharks or perhaps cull them like some countries do when a shark attack occurs? Disgusting. The article never even explained why sharks were overfished in the first place, nor did it describe how these millions of sharks are killed every year.

And so here is the terrible, sad truth: more sharks are killed every year by people for their fins. This means fisherman catch sharks, cut off their fins and let their bodies drop back into the ocean. How cruel is that? How unbelievably awful is that? And we continue to demonize the animal, make it out to be a vicious killer of men, hunting us in the water?

Understanding and respecting sharks starts with being able to separate fact and fiction. Jaws was fiction. I appreciate it and love it as fiction. People’s inability to separate the two has left a devastating legacy for sharks. Discovery Channel’s Shark Week has been a sometimes unfair distribution of dumb megalodon related documentaries and insightful scientific research into what makes sharks tick. I do believe they are moving in a better direction by not necessarily highlighting shark attacks as much as they used to and are more focusing on showing the beautiful and normal every day lives of these creatures.

So, for all of you saying I love Shark Week but I’m never going in the ocean in Maine again because sharks might attack me… Maybe you’re being a bit hypocritical?

Because it is Shark Week, I’ll be donating to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, which “supports scientific research” and “promotes education” about sharks in New England. You can choose to support joining their cause, by purchasing items from their merchandise store or by supporting a shark! I’ve decided to donate to Cool Beans, a 12ft. great white female.

Do something for the sharks this week, folks. Educate or donate. That’s what we need more of right now.



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