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Shark expert: Attacks in New York extremely rare

Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin on Sunday explained that the water at town beaches would be open Sunday because there have been no shark sightings, but only knee-deep. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Hempstead Town restricted bathers Sunday to only going waist deep for fear of sharks, though a Long Island expert said research hasn't shown an increase in shark activity this year and noted shark attacks are extremely rare in New York.

No sharks had been spotted on Sunday morning at town beaches, but employees saw cow-nosed rays in the water, which sharks feed on, according to a town news release. An initial knee-deep restriction on beachgoers later became a waist-deep restriction.

Nassau County police have been conducting helicopter and boat patrols along the South Shore daily after about a dozen shark sightings between Point Lookout, Lido Beach, Long Beach and Atlantic Beach since Monday. Long Beach and town officials have also been conducting patrols on the water.

Despite their fearsome reputations, since 1864 there have been just 12 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks in New York, according to the International Shark Attack File kept at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Greg Metzger, the chief field coordinator for the South Fork Natural History Museum who helps catch, identify and tag sharks for research, said he understands officials' caution if there's a confirmed shark sighting.

"If you see a shark, yes I guess it's worth it to close the beach," he said. "As a scientist, the sharks are always there, whether you see them or don’t see them, and the risk is still the same — it’s almost zero."

Spotting sharks is actually a good sign that the environment has rebounded. As bait fish populations have been restored, shark, dolphin and humpback whale activity off Long Island's coast has become more pronounced, Metzger said.

"There’s no difference really this year as compared to years past," Metzger said.

A shark was spotted Saturday about 1:15 p.m. off Point Lookout, closing swimming at Hempstead beaches.

The town also warned of a strong riptide as Tropical Storm Isaias makes its way up the Atlantic Coast.

Nassau County's Nickerson Beach was opened to normal swimming on Sunday, according to spokesman Mike Fricchione. 

Long Beach spokesman John McNally said there were no shark sightings as of midmorning Sunday. City officials on Saturday limited swimming to waist-deep water and deployed water scooters to search for sharks. The city is periodically closing off the water while water scooter patrols scan the coastline, officials said.

Orient Beach State Park was closed for capacity at 11 a.m. because of capacity restrictions related to COVID-19.

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