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Three shark sightings close Long Beach ocean, force restrictions elsewhere

Officials reported shark sightings at several beaches Monday, forcing swimmers out of the water amid the scorching temperatures. Cecilia Dowd has the story.  Credit: Newsday staff; Photo Credit: ullstein bild via Getty Images; Universal Images Group via Getty / VW Pics; Steve De Neef/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images; Town of Hempstead

Shark!

Local officials reported three shark sightings Monday in Hempstead-area waters on Long Island's South Shore, and they say it's the same one — likely a bull shark.

The sightings were at Long Beach, Point Lookout and Lido Beach West, officials said.   

The ocean off Long Beach was closed indefinitely to public use after the second shark spotting in the water, while bathing resumed in the afternoon at Hempstead town beaches between Atlantic Beach and Jones Beach — but only knee-deep.

"This is a real, legitimate shark sighting," Town Supervisor Don Clavin said.

The first shark spotting on the scorching hot day was off the shore of Lido Beach West, leading to the closure of the strip, town spokesman Michael Caputo said. 

That was the first sighting in four years, said Clavin, who said it was midmorning and 8 to 10 feet from the shore.

"It was pretty close, folks," he said at a midday news conference. "That is really close to the shoreline."

He said: "This was a sizable one, and it can do some damage in the wrong situation."

Clavin said that there were potentially two sharks in the area, and "it's a concern for residents' safety. That's what it comes down to."

The shark was spotted by a town lifeguard on a surfboard, Caputo said. The lifeguard described what he saw to town higher-ups, who concluded that the shark was likely a bull shark. 

Long Beach tweeted at 2:16 p.m. that there had been a second sighting and said the ocean would be "closed until further notice." Long Beach spokesman John McNally confirmed the second sighting, near Riverside Boulevard, which he said was by a lifeguard.

Town of Hempstead officials reported the third sighting, near Point Lookout.

Greg Metzger, the chief field coordinator for the South Fork Natural History Museum who helps catch, identify and tag sharks for research, said bull sharks tend to be fairly large, up to 500 pounds. He said they like warm, shallow water; will scavenge and can also catch and kill their own prey; and are one of the few sharks that can live in fresh water.

Metzger said he believed the sharks spotted Monday probably weren't bull sharks, based on their biology and his experience tracking sharks.

"They're unlikely to be in New York waters. Period," he said. They tend to be in southern waters, the Carolinas and points south, he said.

He asked anyone who sees a shark to fill out a survey from the state Department of Environmental Conservation: https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/117460.html.

Metzger said the likelihood of a human being attacked by a shark is "literally almost zero." He cited statistics from the International Shark Attack File, kept in Florida, that there were 12 or 13 bites or scrapes by sharks in New York State in the 100 or more years records have been kept. 

Mike Romano, the town's chief ocean lifeguard, said at the news conference that the lifeguard was out in the water and saw a shadow beneath him and determined it was a shark based on characteristics like its shape and dorsal fin.

The beaches were open in the town, but swimming was limited to knee deep, a restriction that was being periodically reevaluated based on risk. Patrols including the Coast Guard and lifeguards were in the water and were to determine whether the danger had abated, he said.

Clavin noted that the beaches were already at limited capacity, due to restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Sunday, there was a sighting of two thresher sharks swimming together at Robert Moses State Park, according to George Gorman, regional director of the state Parks Department.  

With Cecilia Dowd

The bull shark

Carcharhinus leucas. The bull shark can weigh up to 500 pounds and can be 11 feet or longer. They like warm, shallow water and they scavenge for food – but they can also catch and kill their own prey. One of the few sharks that can live in fresh water. They’re gray, with a pale/white underbelly and broad, small eyes and rounded snouts.

More common sharks off LI

Sand tiger shark

Length: Up to 10 feet

Depth: 6 to 626 feet

Danger: These sharks prefer shallow waters, reefs and rocky areas. They are generally not aggressive unless provoked and there are few recorded unprovoked attacks.

Blue shark

Length: 7 to 12 feet

Depth: Surface to 1,148 feet

Danger: This species prefers the cooler waters of the open ocean. They are “not overly aggressive” but are considered dangerous and have been known to attack humans and boats unprovoked.

Great white shark

Length: 22 to 23 feet

Depth: Surface to 775 feet

Danger: Great whites are credited with more fatal unprovoked shark attacks than any other species. Their swimming patterns take them from deeper coastal waters to open ocean. There is little data that provides a complete picture of the habits and patterns of this species.

Shortfin Mako shark

Length: About 10 feet

Depth: Surface to 1,600 feet

Danger: These sharks prefer colder waters and are a pelagic species, meaning they are found in the middle ranges of the ocean depths. Makos are aggressive and the fastest shark known to scientists. Despite their preference for waters away from the coast, they have been known to attack boats and fishermen.

Thresher shark

Length: 8 to 15 feet

Depth: Surface to 1,800 feet

Danger: Thresher sharks are not considered dangerous. They are known to be timid and generally stay away from populated coastlines unless food brings them closer. They have been seen in both coastal and oceanic water. Juveniles stick to bays and near-coastal water.

Tiger shark

Length: 10 to 14 feet

Depth: Surface to 1,085 feet

Danger: Tiger sharks are among the most dangerous species. They prefer murky surface waters in coastal areas, but can tolerate a wide range of ocean habitats. Tiger sharks are second to great whites in number of unprovoked attacks. They are aggressive hunters and have even been known to eat garbage.

Sandbar shark

Length: About 6 feet

Depth: 60 to 200 feet

Danger: They are largely harmless. Sandbar sharks are bottom dwellers and prefer shallow coastal water. They mostly eat smaller prey and avoid populated beaches.

Spiny dogfish shark

Length: Up to 3.5 feet

Depth: Surface to 2,950 feet

Danger: These sharks swim in schools and do not pose a threat to humans, though they do have spines in their dorsal fins that can cause painful injuries. They prefer to dwell on the bottom of coastal waters but do migrate long distances and move through different depths.

SOURCES: Greg Metzger of the South Fork Natural History Museum; Florida Museum of Natural History

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