Nassau County has had a record number of 26 shark sightings so far this year and will institute a flag warning system at Nickerson Beach to alert beachgoers when a shark has been spotted, County Executive Laura Curran announced on Monday.
In summer 2020, there were a total of 20 confirmed shark sightings, whereas there have been six more by mid-August this summer, Curran noted during a news conference at Nickerson Beach. She then unveiled a large, purple flag with a white shark silhouette, which lifeguards will display at the beach entrance when a shark is spotted near the shore along any part of Nassau’s coast.
“We have seen more sharks closer to shore,” Curran said. “Our goal is not to scare people, but we do have an obligation to warn our residents and our visitors how to avoid danger.”
The flag will remain up for at least 24 hours after a shark is spotted “to alert swimmers that they should be extra vigilant,” Curran added, noting that coastal communities in Maine, Massachusetts, and other states have also adopted this system and seen an uptick in sharks.
Also on Monday, Smith Point Beach in Shirley closed to swimming due to “multiple shark sightings,” according to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
Last month, a lifeguard at Jones Beach believed he was bitten by a shark. He had minor injuries from the incident. Most sharks that have been sighted are small sharks that are not prone to attacking humans, such as sand sharks. However, some were more aggressive sharks, such as bull sharks, tiger sharks, and black tip sharks.
The recent increase in shark sightings is due to warmer, cleaner waters that are attracting more marine life in general.
“We just want to remind everyone [that] when you go in the water, you are entering their home,” Curran said. “So you have to be respectful of them and be cautious and be as careful as possible.”
Cpt. Tom Paladino, owner of American Princess Cruises, a second-generation boating business, spoke about the uptick in marine life he’s seen while leading whale watching boat tours out of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn.
“These are the waters we mostly go to to see the whales,” he said. “There definitely is an increase in sharks, and the reason is there’s an increase in everything. There’s more whales, more sharks, more birds. There’s an influx of bait for all these species to follow.”
Paladino noted most of the sharks are on the small side — about three feet long — and that great white sharks are a rare sight.
Curran encouraged other municipalities with beaches to adopt similar flag warning systems for sharks, which have also been spotted at Jones Beach State Park and Town of Hempstead’s Lido Beach.
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