PORTLAND, Maine — At the tail end of August, a late-night restaurant delivery driver was driving down Marginal Way, headed for Fox Street, when he spotted two glowing balls of light hovering low over the Bayside neighborhood.
Intrigued, he stopped the car and got out for a better look.
“The primary object appeared to descend, move or wobble and the second object was at a higher altitude, [its] light was not glowing as brightly,” he reported to a long-standing UFO investigative agency. “I could see the second object extinguish its light and move in unison with the other primary orb.”
Before long, both unidentified objects zoomed up, to the east and out of view.
“As the primary object moved away, possibly into the clouds, I could see two or more other unilluminated objects speeding away together in a loose formation,” he said.
The driver’s experience was just one of 21 unexplained aerial phenomena reported to the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON, in the skies over Maine in 2022.
That’s roughly half the number reported to the network the year before. At least one other well-known UFO investigative agency is reporting a similar drop in Maine this year. Both have seen steady year-over-year declines in local reporting since hitting high-water marks in the pandemic year of 2020.
But local investigators and enthusiasts reckon Mainers are witnessing more unidentified night-sky phenomena than ever before and reporting them on social media, rather than legacy agencies. This, they say, makes the “official” numbers less than accurate.
Maine UFO author and investigator Nomar Slevik published his first compilation of Maine UFO stories nearly a decade ago, based mostly on “official” reports. Now, Slevik is working on a followup that will rely much more on social media reports.
“Organizations like MUFON aren’t as visible to younger generations,” Slevik said. “I think the real numbers are much higher. People are reporting UFOs in Maine all the time on Facebook.”
The Mutual UFO Network has been gathering reports, pictures and video since its founding in 1969. The other large organization doing the same kind of work is the National UFO Reporting Center, or NUFORC. It has maintained a 24-hour reporting hotline since forming in 1974.
Both agencies collected a combined 98 Maine UFO reports in 2020. That was the highest total in almost a decade. In 2021, it dropped to 73, and then to just 59 this year.
Overall, reports to both networks started rising dramatically at the dawn of the digital age as official reporting shifted from stamps, envelopes and hotlines to email and online forms.
Shortly after the agencies started allowing online reports, Maine numbers hit an all-time combined high of 103 in 2012.
But technology and convenience have always influenced the raw numbers of reported sightings, UFO number cruncher Cheryl Costa said.
Costa, and her partner Linda Miller Costa, wrote “UFO Sightings Desk Reference: United States of America,” a rigorous compendium of statistical charts and graphs analyzing more than 100,000 sightings around the country between 2001 and 2020.
“The patterns are as much about human behavior as they are about UFOs,” Costa said.
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Thus, a switch from reporting via the mail, to a hotline, to online and now to social media makes sense. But the shift also fragments the reporting system, making accurate sighting assessments nearly impossible.
The Mutual UFO Network and National UFO Reporting Center keep careful track of locations, shapes, colors and durations of UFO experiences reported to them. The information, along with videos and photographs, are kept in meticulous spreadsheets.
Both organizations also employ field investigators who look into a number of cases each year, attempting to explain what people saw.
Facebook, Twitter and the like do none of the same things.
For example, in September, a person reported an incident to the National UFO Reporting Center that occurred on June 25 in Casco. Sitting on a lakeside dock, the person observed large rectangular lights blinking sequentially along two perpendicular edges. There were approximately eight lights per edge.
“[The] lights were very bright white to slightly blue, very intense and each light panel was rectangular and seemed large,” the person wrote. “A bit freaky.”
The detailed report stated the phenomenon lasted three to five minutes before the lights vanished behind a treeline to the west.
This information appears in a collated, searchable spreadsheet.
Likewise, a comprehensive report to the Mutual UFO Network dated Nov. 3, at 10:55 p.m., describes an orange, circular UFO sighting in South Portland from Willard Beach.
“It had a trail behind it like a rocket engine. Accelerated faster and faster until it disappeared,” the report reads. “No noise whatsoever.”
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Meanwhile, a Facebook group called Unexplained Maine, which caters to UFO, bigfoot and ghost reports, has grown to more than 43,000 members in under two years.
“I can’t believe how much and how fast it’s grown,” founder Toby McAllister of Mechanic Falls said. “There are daily posts there about what people have seen. Probably 90 percent is explainable — but still.”
UFO reports posted in the group range from extremely vague to quite detailed, but they are not organized into a searchable, analytic database.
“Saw this today across from the Bangor airport,” reads a December post with what looks like a photo of a cloud.
Another, more detailed, report in the group relates an encounter with a glowing light in the sky via several narrative paragraphs, accompanied by a video.
“I was able to get my [phone tracking] app open to see if it was a satellite or anything from the past launches, floating close to earth, but there was nothing there,” the member said.
Kathleen McKechnie, a paranormal investigator and member of Unexplained Maine, said she’s contacted the Mutual UFO Network about sightings before but found the organization less than helpful. Since then, McKechnie has been keeping a list of sighting reports, gleaned from friends and neighbors near her home on the Maine coast.
“I no longer look to outside groups to help with the UFO sightings in the area,” McKechnie said. “My sighting here was a long time ago but others have seen what I saw since then. So it’s a regular and routine thing in the midcoast.”