'Shark Week' star Montauk's Craig O'Connell on what to expect on Long Island this summer: 'There may be some negative encounters'

Shark expert Craig O'Connell reels in a 4 foot Giant Trevally in the waters surrounding Shark Mountain. Credit: Discovery Channel

Discovery's “Shark Week” — beginning Sunday at 8 p.m. — has an important Long Island tie-in going back at least a decade: Craig O'Connell, who has a Ph.D in marine sciences,  has been one of its leading on-air experts, and will be featured in three programs this year, including Sunday's “Makozilla” (10:07 p.m.) about a search for a giant mako off California's Channel Island.

I spoke recently with Montauk-based O'Connell, who's known as the Shark Doctor on social media — who along with his wife, Dr. Nicole O'Connell, a pediatrician, runs Montauk's O'Seas Conservation Foundation, which leads shark educational and conservation efforts. One of his areas of expertise is the shark population around Long Island.

Since “Makozilla” is your big show this year, let's talk short-fin makos. In the program, you said you recently launched a study on them?

A mako shark rips bait apart from “Makozilla,” on Discovery's...

A mako shark rips bait apart from “Makozilla,” on Discovery's "Shark Week." Credit: Discovery Channel

In Montauk, and this is our third year. We're trying to identify a short-fin nursery [and] what's amazing is that we think there's a particular reef right off Montauk that serves as one. We don't know their exact numbers [but] the government is trying to protect them, so one of the things that's important is to see where their nursery is so you can protect that.

As “Makozilla” indicates, there seems to be a big difference between East and West Coast makos. Why?

The makos on the West Coast are absolutely enormous. When I got in the water I looked at my director and said I've never been so fearful to get into the water with a grown shark — 13 feet long, 1,300 pounds, and biting everything in sight. But we had to collect a tissue sample and it was one of the most intimidating things I've done in my life and for “Shark Week.”

I was about to say you have the best job in the world.

Shark expert Craig O'Connell points something out in the distance...

Shark expert Craig O'Connell points something out in the distance to the crew during the filming of “Makozilla.”  Credit: Discovery Channel

It is a dream job, but there are certain times on the boat when you say, "Oh, I don't know if this is a good idea" [but] once you get over the hurdle, it does turn into the most incredible experience of your life.

In May, Newsday reported that we're expected to have a busy shark season here again. What should we expect?

Great White Shark reaches for bait from “Great White Serial...

Great White Shark reaches for bait from “Great White Serial Killer: Sea of Blood.” Credit: Discovery Channel

It is quiet at the moment, but there will be a lot more people going to the beach, and with the water warming, a lot of those shark species are moving into our waters. It all happens at the same time so it's a perfect storm. There may be some negative encounters and we're hoping there will not be. New York State is using drones now so the goal is zero negative encounters.

The chances of that?

When I first talked to you a long time ago, you asked about shark attacks and I laughed, but over the past few years that we've been talking a lot has changed. Water is a bit warmer and species utilizing our waters are in greater abundance — there's a lot more prey, too. Also, the water has become a little bit clearer. Because of all this, it's become a better environment for sharks.

Indeed, last year there were attacks off Quogue, Kismet, Robert Moses State Park, Cherry Grove and Rockaway — so up and down the Island. Is there any logic to this distribution?

Will we see sign like this again at Long Island...

Will we see sign like this again at Long Island beaches this summer? Credit: James Carbone

It's fair to assume we will have sharks all along our coastline, from New York City to Montauk.

Apparently a resurgence in the bunker [or menhaden] population has made a big difference, too, correct?

It has been recovering because there are stricter catch limits [plus] sharks, whales and dolphins absolutely love them.

Is there any chance that any of those attacks last summer were intentional?

No shark in the animal kingdom has human on the menu. People are essentially swimming in an area near shore where there happens to be a lot of prey. The water is murky in some places, too — less than a foot of visibility — and sharks can't necessarily see but they can detect. But their electro-sensory organs — ampullae of Lorenzini — might sense something. They're not seeking us out: As bites, it's essentially grab- and-go. If they were really trying to bite people, it would be substantially worse.

Are those state-deployed drones effective? What else could be used?

Drones are now being used to warn about sharks on...

Drones are now being used to warn about sharks on Long Island Credit: Howard Schnapp

The drone is a good step forward as a means of surveillance. They might be able to detect a massive bunker pod, for example, and in theory by detecting prey maybe we should get people out of the water. I'm also working on a shark-exclusion barrier [a series of pipes with electromagnetic signals]. It's an eco-friendly solution to replace these shark culling nets in South Africa and Australia [which contribute to shark mortality]. I'm going to complete the study this fall on Cape Cod, and when we finish testing it could potentially be deployed in New York. So far it has been effective.

What are the species of sharks off Long Island — an evolving picture, I understand?

There are a lot of different species inshore — duskies, sand tigers, sand bars. We're a nursery for great whites — small great whites are common and thresher sharks inshore. We have various species of dogfish sharks, too, and right around September, we get spinners and black tips. Both are subtropical but we now see them extensively. On any given day, I've had my boat surrounded by hundreds. We also get bull sharks in late summer, and far off shore, various species of hammerheads, makos, tiger sharks, we even got a whale shark 80 miles out. It's truly a different realm out there.

Reasons for this glorious profusion?

It's tough to say — climate change is a new thing in how it impacts the movement of sharks but we are learning that ocean temperature is changing faster than we expected and the warmer the water, the increase in prey.

You and I have often talked about the cataclysm facing sharks around the world. Is there any basis for optimism?

Great White Shark from Shark Week's "Air Jaws: Final Frontier"...

Great White Shark from Shark Week's "Air Jaws: Final Frontier" on Discovery Channel. Credit: Discovery Channel

Yes, because in a lot of places, people are beginning to understand that when they lose sharks, it directly affects their own food supply, their own means of income. A lot of organizations and people around the world are doing everything in their power to get this message across. For example, I met someone working in Indonesia — the largest exporter of shark fins — who is hiring shark fishermen and giving them alternate means of income … We're beginning to see these efforts pay off.

Finally, back to Long Island: Any advice you'd give swimmers this season?

Don't swim alone — swim with a group — and if you see a bunch of birds skydiving, just get out of the water. Also, it's best to avoid swimming at dawn and dusk.



“Shark Week” begins Sunday (Discovery, 8 p.m.), and there's a lot to get to. Here's the complete rundown (and there are encore broadcasts at 11 each night, Monday-Saturday): 


“Belly of the Beast: Bigger and Bloodier” (8 p.m.). A 2023 fave returns for another visit (this time to New Zealand) with a whale decoy for scientists to witness a feeding frenzy up close.

“Jaws vs. Leviathan” (9:04 p.m.) Orcas are attacking great whites. Why?

“Makozilla” (10:07 p.m.) Montauk's Craig O'Connell looks for the huge mako off California's Channel Islands that's mauling the sea lion population.

“Sydney Harbor Shark Invasion” (11:06 p.m.) First great white fatality here in almost 60 years. Why?


“Big Shark Energy” (8 p.m.) Off New Zealand, scientists stage a contest to see which great white has the most alpha mojo.

“Shark Frenzy: Mating Games” (9 p.m.) O'Connell is back to explore the “love lives” of oceanic white tips and tigers.

“Great White Serial Killer: Sea of Blood” (10 p.m.) Scientists look for a great white that killed three fishermen off the coast of Mexico.


“Deadliest Bite” (8 p.m.) How bull, great white, tiger and hammerhead sharks bite.

“6000lb. Shark” (9 p.m.) Scientists try to weigh a great white off New Zealand, which is not easy when it may weigh 6,000 pounds — a “fat” shark, they impolitely declare.

“Monster Hammerheads: Species X” (10 p.m.) A unique group of hammerheads off Turks and Caicos that may be a new subspecies.


“Great White North” (8 p.m.) Could great whites off Nova Scotia be the world's largest?

“Expedition Unknown: Sharks vs. Nazis in Paradise” (9 p.m.) “Shark Week” finally gets “Nazis” and “sharks” in a title — what took it so long? This one enlists a shark to look for a lost wreck that was sunk by a U-boat.

“Alien Sharks: Ghosts of Japan” (10 p.m.) “Shark Week” (also) finally gets ghosts, aliens and sharks in a title. In fact, this episode is a fascinating search for the endangered angel shark — no aliens or ghosts in sight.


“Monster of Oz” (8 p.m.) Off Western Australia, some beast is eating great whites; a “sea monster” perhaps? Hmm.

“Caught! When Sharks Attack” (9 p.m.) Experts look at the “most intense” shark encounters.

“Great White Danger Zone” (10 p.m.) Great white hot spot off South Africa gets a close-up.


“The Real Sharkano” (8 p.m.) Shark-worshippers on a remote island.

“Sharks of the Dead Zone” (9 p.m.) O'Connell is back to find out why (or whether) bull sharks can survive in an important nursery in Florida — the Indian River Lagoon — now polluted and oxygen-depleted.

“Shark Attack Island” (10 p.m.) Bull, great white and tiger hot-spot off a resort beach in a “South Pacific paradise.”


“Sharktopia” (8 p.m.) Looking for the last leopard sharks off Indonesia.

“Mothersharker: Hammer Time” (9 p.m.) Where do scalloped hammerheads give birth? Find out! — VERNE GAY

Top Stories


FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.