News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, September 10, 2020
A shark encounter of the frightening kind
Fisherman tangles with great white off Stonington Harbor

by Leslie Landrigan

Donnie McHenan thought he might need a bigger boat after encountering a great white shark near Green Ledge off Fog Island on September 5.

The day was beautiful and calm when he pulled up his trap aboard the 38-foot Daddy’s Girls.

“I looked down and the water all of a sudden turned white,” McHenan said in a phone interview. “I said, ‘What the heck is that’? I think I used different language.”

The shark was on its belly, eight to 10 feet down from the water’s surface, he said. Then it turned and, in a flash, came up out of the water and grabbed the trap in its teeth. “He didn’t like the taste of it,” McHenan said. “Then he came up on it again. I thought he was coming up on the boat.”

His sternman came to look and said, “What the…?”

“We could have reached out and touched it,” McHenan said. “I’ve been fishing for 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like that.”

He’s sure the fish was a great white shark. It was as white all over as its belly, he said, and it measured between 12 and 15 feet, as big around as a 55-gallon oil drum.

“You couldn’t get your arms around it, but you wouldn’t want to,” he said.

McHenan thinks the shark—or even sharks—are feeding off the seals near Fog Island. He’s seen dead seals floating on the water, and until he encountered the great white he assumed they died of natural causes. In hindsight, he realizes the dead seals had no heads.

“I think the shark has been around longer than we think,” McHenan said.

Earlier this summer, a great white shark killed a woman swimming off Bailey Island in Harpswell, according to the Marine Patrol.

No ‘Jaws’ for this fisherman

An hour after the shark bit his lobster trap, McHenan decided he wasn’t able to concentrate and called it a day.

“I’m not scared of much, but I don’t like sharks. Even before Jaws,” McHenan said. “I don’t even think I finished watching Jaws.”

He still can’t figure out why the shark attacked his lobster trap. “Maybe the trap came up and startled him or her,” he said.

Word about the shark traveled fast along the waterfront. Michael Daugherty, who owns Upwest and Downeast Sea Kayak Guide Service with his wife Rebecca, heard about it on Sunday at Colwell Ramp, he said in an email.

The Daughertys had planned to paddle to the waters around Fog Island that day, but changed their plans.

Michael Daugherty said he’d been paddling near Fog Island on Saturday when he saw a seal jump completely out of the water. That, he said, was a little unusual, but he didn’t see anything chasing it.

“Whatever the circumstances, it seems prudent to stay away from there for now,” said Daugherty.

McHenan said that’s a good idea.

“I don’t know if there’s more than one, but I know there’s one,” he said.

The Marine Patrol recommends avoiding schooling fish and seals, prey for great white sharks.