A shark attacks and kills a seal off Whitehead Island in St. George Sunday morning. Credit: Sue Fontaine

As Sue Fontaine and her husband leisurely cruised up the Maine coast Sunday morning, she was focused on taking scenic lighthouse photos, not documenting a bloody meal at sea.  

But then the unexpected popped into the frame — a seal in distress. It was being hunted by a great white shark.

“I was already shooting and saw the seal. We started toward it and saw the shark fin. We backed off and just took pictures,” Fontaine, 68, said. “It was difficult to witness. All I could do was to take shots and pray that it was all over quickly, but it was not over nearly quickly enough, for either the seal or myself.”

Sue and Pete Fontaine, accompanied by their 16-pound dog, Short Squeeze, were riveted as the life-and-death struggle played out in the water off Whitehead Island in St. George, at the western edge of Penobscot Bay. The series of 80 photos she snapped give an unusually close-up view of a shark eating a seal. They’ve been shared more than a thousand times on Facebook and attracted attention from the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and other media outlets.

Sue Fontaine, a seasonal Trenton resident who documented a fatal shark attack on a seal last weekend, seen here on her family’s boat with her dog, Short Squeeze. Credit: Courtesy of Sue Fontaine

A retired teacher who spends the summers in an RV in Trenton, Sue Fontaine figured that she was just in the right place at the right time — or maybe the wrong time — to witness something extraordinary. The couple had spent Saturday night on the Damariscotta River in their 22-foot cabin cruiser. They were on their way back to Trenton when the attack happened.

“It seemed to last forever, but it was just under six minutes,” she said. “I just shot and shot. We were totally amazed at what was happening.”

It’s hard not to read emotion into the photos, some of which are fairly graphic. Sue Fontaine called one photo, which showed the seal trying to get away, “heartbreaking.”

related content

“The seal, in my mind, was obviously looking right at me and asking for help,” she said. “It was a very insightful realization. We had an awareness of the soul in the animal. They do want to live.”

Still, Sue Fontaine, who described herself as mostly a vegan, said she understands that nature isn’t always pretty.

“It’s the circle of life and death,” she said.

A few nights before, the couple had been on their boat when they heard an animal they thought was a seal hunt and kill a seabird.

“The screams from the bird … it was like, ‘wow, man, this is nature. This is unbelievable,’” she said. “And a few days later, we were watching the seal get his.”

The Fontaines, who spend a lot of time on the ocean, have always known that predatory fish are active off the Maine coast.

“We used to go out mackerel fishing all the time, and we’d pull in a bluefish or a striper that was bit in half,” she said. “You know that something bigger is down there.”

A shark attacks a seal.
A shark attacks and kills a seal off Whitehead Island in St. George Sunday morning. Credit: Courtesy of Sue Fontaine

In recent years, Mainers have been put on notice that great white sharks are here. A woman was killed in a shark attack off Bailey Island in Harpswell in July 2020, a tragedy that shocked the state. Just a few weeks ago, a 12-foot great white shark was seen attacking a seal near Potts Point in Harpswell. That seal survived, according to reports.

Over the past week, scientists were tracking a great white shark in Casco Bay.

Fontaine said that witnessing the attack on the seal has changed the way she feels about some once-loved activities, like sea kayaking and ocean swimming.

“I couldn’t wait for the water to get warm enough to swim off the back of my boat. But that’s not happening,” she said.

On Wednesday, she and her husband spent a pleasant day at Acadia National Park, biking the carriage roads and hiking up Sargent Mountain.

Then, they wanted to cool off — but decided to give Sand Beach a miss.

“We took a swim in the lake,” she said. “The whole time I was swimming in the lake, I never gave the shark a thought.”  

Watch more: