After a spate of shark sightings and bites earlier this week, is beefed-up surveillance is making a difference? NewsdayTV's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp

Five swimmers have reported being bitten by sharks in the waters off Long Island's South Shore beaches since Monday — which, if all are confirmed, would account for more than half the Island’s record eight shark attacks in 2022.

The Island’s first reported bite of the season was early Monday afternoon at Robert Moses State Park — of a 15-year-old girl — followed later in the afternoon by another off Kismet Beach, of a boy, also 15. The next day, a 47-year-old man reported being bitten off Quogue Village Beach, and minutes later a 49-year-old man reported having been bitten off Fire Island Pines Beach. The fifth was a woman, whose age wasn’t disclosed, just west of Cherry Grove on Tuesday.

Testing shark-surveillance technology

The reported attacks offer the summer's first test of shark-surveillance technology, new and old, as well as serving as a reminder that sharks, which have been living in the ocean long before humans began enjoying the beaches, cannot be completely avoided.

And shark season just began in the last week — and won’t begin peaking for weeks off South Shore beaches.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Five swimmers have reported being bitten by sharks in the waters off Long Island's South Shore beaches since Monday.
  • If all bites are confirmed, it would account for more than half the Island’s record eight shark attacks in 2022.
  • Jurisdictions across Long Island deploy a variety of methods, including drones, helicopters, binoculars, boats and other watercraft to detect sharks. 

“The sharks are really just starting to show up in our waters,” said Greg Metzger, chief field coordinator for the SOFO Shark Research and Education Program, based on the South Fork.

So-called shark season, when the predators migrate from southern waters to Long Island, started locally in the past week and lasts through October. It peaks at the end of July on the western part of the Island and is a gradient across the Island to the East End, where the season peaks in September in the Montauk area, Metzger said. The season lasts through October.

To be on the lookout for sharks, jurisdictions across Long Island deploy a variety of methods, including drones, helicopters, binoculars, boats and other watercraft. This summer, an estimated $145,000 set aside by Gov. Kathy Hochul and the State Legislature for Long Island's shark monitoring efforts has paid for additional drones, training for drone operators and more wave runners at Jones Beach, Robert Moses State Park and Hither Hills State Park in Montauk.

'Super slight' shark increase

Despite the increased vigilance, the number of sharks in Long Island waters hasn’t meaningfully increased in recent years, said Metzger, who was out Wednesday from morning to afternoon on the Atlantic in a 21-foot boat south of Fire Island trying to tag sharks.

It’s only a “super slight” increase, mostly as a result of restrictions put into place for three decades now finally coming to fruition with some shark species. Those restrictions, Metzger said, include a possession limit — only one shark allowed per day for recreational shark fishing — as well as size limits.

“There are slightly more sharks due to conservation efforts, but the bigger picture is that there are a lot more people looking for them," Metzger said. "You have drones now. You have helicopters. You have Jet Skis. You have people. So the perception that there are more sharks, or that the sharks just showed up is really just that — a perception. These sharks have always been here.”

What about the number of bite attacks so far this year?

“Literally,” Metzger said, “it’s bad luck.”

A shark bite, but back to the water soon

Peter Banculli, 15, was bitten on Monday while surfing on...

Peter Banculli, 15, was bitten on Monday while surfing on Fire Island.  Credit: Banculli family

One of the unlucky ones was the boy who was bitten, Peter Banculli of North Babylon. The 15-year-old was bitten on the ankle late Monday afternoon and had a puncture wound on his calf.

In an interview, Banculli, a rising junior at North Babylon High, said he and a friend had been surfing, waiting for a wave to come in about 35 feet from shore in Kismet, Fire Island, when the shark “came out of nowhere and chomped" on his foot, leaving "multiple gashes" in it.

“It happened so fast,” said the teen, who pumps gas for boats as his summer job at Bergen Bay Docks in West Babylon. "I started to shout and panic to my friend. He thought I was kidding until he saw the tail on it."

Banculli said he knew immediately it was a shark that had bit him.

"I never felt so much pain in my foot before, and my friend saw the shark; he said it was pretty big," he said. "I didn’t really notice that I had been bitten really bad because I was in so much shock, and then I realized how big and deep the cuts really were."

He scrambled to get back ashore with the help of his surfboard.

"I was trying to ride the waves on my stomach for a quicker way to get out," Banculli said.

He sought out a good Samaritan's help.

"The blood started to pour out really bad when I got onto the beach," the teen said.

For now, he's bandaged up and on a break from surfing, his pastime since age 7. Banculli needs to use a scooter to get around because of the injuries. But he's undeterred.

"I have to wait about two weeks to get a decent recovery so maybe after the third week I'll be back in the water," he said.

Searching for sharks with drones, binoculars

In an attempt to avoid attacks, jurisdictions on Long Island with oceanfront beaches use old-fashioned and cutting-edge technology — including binoculars and drones.

Lifeguards are trained to spot dorsal fins and determine whether that fin belongs to a dolphin or shark.

And when a shark is spotted, lifeguards evacuate the water for 30 to 45 minutes and limit swimming to about waist-deep until conditions are deemed safe, according to Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin.

But sometimes, Metzger said, lifeguards and other beach personnel mistake other species, such as bluefish, Black drum and Cobia, for sharks and cause false alarms, panic and unnecessary water evacuations.

State Parks Police Capt. Rishi Basdeo said that drones can see about five miles along the coastline.

Patrols aren’t just looking for sharks, but also for marine life that are harbingers of sharks nearby, according to Parks Lt. Alex Goodman.

“We’re usually looking for the bait fish attracting sharks in larger numbers due to improving water quality,” Goodman said. “Schools of fish get closer to swimmers and sharks follow. We see schools of tens of thousands of fish and it looks like one shiny mass of one giant school rising together. Sometimes we see sharks trailing these schools.”

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