An unprecedented six shark attacks reported in three weeks — two of which occurred on the same day — in the waters off Long Island’s beaches has beachgoers, officials, and lifeguards on high alert.
The string of bites, none of which proved fatal, comes a year after dozens of shark sightings prompted local officials to step up patrols to alert the public — a decade after the Press first reported that a local expert was calling for such a plan to be implemented.
“I didn’t feel good about it, that’s for sure,” Morris Kramer, an environmentalist from Atlantic Beach who had called for Long Island to enact a shark alert system since 2011, told the Press after shark alert systems were finally implemented. “But I’m glad [they] did this. Maybe some of the people…will pay attention to it.”
Local officials had initially dismissed his calls for “an immediate government system for shark awareness and shark warnings.” But this summer, Nassau, Suffolk and New York State officials are deploying drones, police boats, and helicopters, and stepping up lifeguards to prevent the next attack.
“I just wanted people to have an eye out … and not make believe it’s not happening,” Kramer, who blames warming sea temperatures for the increased presence of sharks in local waters, told the Press. “The water is just continually warming, there’s no stopping it, so we have to adjust to it. It’s only going to get worse.”
After Kramer sounded the alarm, at least one child was bitten by a shark in the surf off Fire Island in 2018 and a Jones Beach State Park lifeguard said he was bitten by a shark in summer 2021. The Fire Island shark bite was the first on LI since 1948, one of seven in New York State since 1670, none of them fatal. There were just 47 unprovoked shark attacks in the U.S. reported in 2021, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File.
Now, when a shark is spotted, red flags will go up on the beach, indicating that swimming is prohibited for at least an hour under New York State guidelines.
“We are taking action to expand patrols for sharks and protect beachgoers from potentially dangerous situations,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said. “I encourage all New Yorkers to listen to local authorities and take precautions to help ensure safe and responsible beach trips this summer.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said that swimmers should still feel safe at the beach. He said attendance is still strong at local beaches and with “the best trained lifeguards anywhere.”
Why is this happening? Besides Kramer’s theory that warming ocean waters are to blame, theories include water quality improving and an increase in the amount of bunker fish that sharks eat. Experts say sharks typically do not attack humans without provocation, and when they do, it’s usually caused by mistaken identity or fear.
According to the Save Our Seas Foundation, most deadly attacks come down to a handful of species and occur when the shark mistakes a human for prey, such as a seal, or when a person is in areas with low visibility or in the midst of a school of fish where sharks are feeding. Sharks do not feed on people, explains Save Our Seas Foundation project leader Dr. Alison Kock on saveourseas.com. But Dr. Kock says some sharks will bite out of curiosity or to “taste test” what’s in front of them.
Beachgoers seemed mostly unalarmed and say they still feel safe at the beach despite the recent shark attacks. For some, the attacks merely posed an inconvenience for those looking to beat the heat.
“These shark attacks are getting annoying,” Kelli Donovan, a beachgoer and schoolteacher, told the Press.
-With Briana Bonfiglio, Julia Rocca Virnelli, and Oliver Peterson