Lifeguards Get More New Tools After 5 Long Island Shark Bites in 2 Days

A DJI Phantom drone has a Go Pro camera mounted underneath flying on April 22, 2013 (Photo by Don McCullough/WikimediaCommons)

Officials are continuing to add more drones, Jet Skis, and taking other precautions to help lifeguards at beaches across the South Shore following five suspected shark bites in two days this week.

New York State officials said they are deploying dozens of new drones at state-run beaches and oceanfront parks run by county, town and villages. Suffolk County will be purchasing two drones to monitor the shoreline and training lifeguards to pilot the new devices that are in addition to current use of drones, wave runners and paddleboards used at county-run beaches at Smith Point and Cupsogue. And town leaders in charge of several local beaches announced similar initiatives.

“Our goal, first and foremost, is to keep residents safe,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Thursday during a news conference at the entrance to Smith Point County Park. “We have the tools at our disposal to ensure that residents have a great day at the beach.”

The efforts come after two people were bitten by sharks in the water off Fire Island on Monday and then again on Tuesday, when a third person was also bitten at Quogue Village Beach in the Hamptons. The region was already on high alert for sharks after six shark attacks occurred in six weeks on LI last summer.

“These new drones will increase the shark monitoring capacity of local governments across Long Island and New York City, ensuring local beaches are safe for all beachgoers,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said of efforts to train more lifeguards to use drones.

Until the new drones arrive, Suffolk lifeguards will continue to make use of drones operated by the Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (FRES) to monitor the water following any potential sightings. 

“It helps with flagging any type of rip currents because with that the lifeguards are able to then take that information and know certain areas that are going to be sensitive areas,” said Jason Smagin, Suffolk County Parks Department commissioner. “It really is a tremendous tool in the arsenal to help with the monitoring of the beaches.”

The Suffolk lifeguards then demonstrated the launch of a wave runner, as customary any time dangerous marine life is sighted or suspected in the waters. 

“There’s no hesitation in any of our lifeguards,” said Kevin Kolar, chief Suffolk County lifeguard, who urged beachgoers to “always stay in protected waters.” 

Similar sentiments were echoed 30 miles west, when Town of Islip officials held a news conference Thursday at Bay Shore Marina.

“We expect to see sharks here in New York, every June through September, typically coinciding with the summer months,” said Christopher Scott, a marine biologist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. “We have 13 different shark species here that migrated out from the South.”

When bathing at the beach, Scott urged citizens to be careful and aware of their surroundings. He said to listen to the lifeguards and not go into water where there are schools of bait fish or splashing fish. He also warned of waters at dusk or nighttime, including murky water as sharks may misidentify their prey species. He added that climate change could affect the number of shark encounters in the waters.

“Climate change can have impacts on distributions of their food and also have impacts on the distributions of the shark species themselves.” 

He said due to the longer, warmer summers, sharks could stay around the area more frequently.

And at Point Lookout, Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin also held a news conference about the sharks while touting the kick-off of a junior lifeguarding program. Clavin said the beach will be taking extra precautions, as there have been more shark sightings (30) over the past two years than in the previous two decades. Thestate has equipped Point Lookout with jet skis and a drone for shark patrol.

Some say more needs to be done. Matthew Krug, the environmental conservation police officers director for the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, called for more funding for his fellow officers.

“It’s basic math,” he said. “As shark sightings and attacks increase, so must state funding to ensure we can increase monitoring to help prevent beachgoers from being attacked.”

Back at Smith Point County Park, which bills itself as “one of the world’s safest beaches,” Long Islanders lined the sands, seemingly unphased by the weekend’s reports of shark sightings and bites, most of which occurred on Fire Island — the barrier beach on which Smith Point is located.

“If it’s hot, people are going to go in the water,” said beachgoer Sharon Condon, 64, of Medford.

Despite the attacks, Kolar, Suffolk’s head lifeguard, was optimistic. He said: “We don’t have the big sharks like California and Australia. We’ll be alright.”


Robert Moses State Park: A shark bit a 15-year-old girl on the leg while she was swimming at this beach on the westernmost tip of Fire Island shortly before 2 p.m. July 3.

Kismet: A shark bit a 15-year-old boy on the foot while he was surfing at this community on Fire Island at 5:20 p.m. July 3.

Quogue: A shark bit a 47-year-old man on the knee while he was standing in chest-deep water off Quogue Village Beach shortly before at 1:50 p.m. July 4.

Fire Island Pines: A shark bit a 49-year-old man on the hand while he was swimming in the water off Fire Island Pines at 1:55 p.m. July 4.

Cherry Grove: A shark bit a 50-year-old woman while she swam in waters between Cherry Grove and Sailors Haven on Fire Island at 4:25 p.m. July 4.

With additional reporting by Samantha Carey and Vivian Rose