TJ Minutillo was fishing off Nickerson Beach Saturday night when he felt a jolt on his reel.
The Manhasset resident was fishing with friends, standing waist deep in the water and battled for more than two hours until they reeled an 8-foot bull shark into the surf and then released it back into the water.
“About 30 minutes into the fight, I was so tired, I had to sit down,” said Minutillo, 21. “I was tired. The shark was tired.”
He and friends Thomas Butcher and Will Theodoropoulos said they pulled the shark by its tail onto the sand to photograph it, then pulled the hook out of its mouth with a pair of pliers.
The shark was estimated to be about 8 feet long and 300-400 pounds. They released it and it swam back through the surf.
The bull shark was caught just before the start of a week with at least 10 sightings of sharks in Nassau County, including one spotted Thursday off Tobay Beach in Oyster Bay.
Officials said they believe many of the sightings have been bull sharks, one of the more aggressive types of sharks that frequent shallow water, which have prompted swimming closures on Long Island beaches.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said officials sent the photos of the shark caught Saturday to Robert Hueter, the director of shark research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, who confirmed it was a bull shark.
Officials do not know whether the same shark has been spotted repeatedly from East Atlantic Beach to Point Lookout, or whether there are a number of different sharks in the water.
Bull sharks are known to hunt alone in warmer waters. Nassau County’s waters have been reported above 70 degrees, which is warm for New York, according to former New York Aquarium Curator Paul Sieswerda.
Sieswerda, who is now the director of the group Gotham Whale, said Thursday that shark sightings have doubled this year due to warmer water and more fish in the water.
Though bull sharks off Long Island and New York are “exceptionally rare,” he said the warmer waters mean “unusual events can happen,” like the proliferation of bull sharks and the great white shark attack Monday off the coast of Maine that killed a New York City woman. He said that more whales have been seen off New York Harbor for the past decade, but that it’s too early to tell whether bull sharks will continue to come to the shoreline.
“The waters are teeming with fish and attracting a lot of predators,” Sieswerda said. “An abundance of fish attracts all types of larger animals that sharks will feed on. That would bring an unusual shark like a bull shark up into our waters.”
Curran said Nassau police aerial and marine patrols would canvas the entire Nassau County coastline from Oyster Bay to the south shores off Point Lookout and Jones Beach. Swimming was limited this week at Hempstead and Nassau County beaches to knee- to ankle-deep water.
Minutillo said he has been land-based shark fishing for five or six years but never encountered a bull shark.
“There have been myths of bull sharks around here,” Minutillo said. “That day I was not expecting one with the new bait I was using … they’ll eat a license plate if you put it in front of them. They’ll eat anything.”
Butcher, 20, of Manhasset, said they go shark fishing often but usually catch smaller fish like tiger sharks and sand sharks.
“They’re [tiger sharks and sand sharks] mostly harmless, but I never thought we’d catch something like this because bull sharks are very dangerous,” Butcher said.
The trio said they plan to continue swimming and fishing on the South Shore beaches.
Hempstead Chief Lifeguard Mike Romano said lifeguards went out Thursday morning on Jet Skis, paddle boards and kayaks and didn’t see the similar pods of bait fish that sharks usually feed on.
He said boats and Nassau police helicopters would look for any dark shadows, pods of fish or birds diving near the water. Romano added that lifeguards are trained to know the difference between shark fins and dolphin fins.
“There’s been nothing today that warrants us shutting down,” Romano said. “The bait fish bring in medium-sized fish like sea bass, porpoises and dolphins, and they bring in the larger predators.”
Hempstead Town bay constables and lifeguards patrolled Point Lookout beaches and shorelines Thursday on a boat and Jet Ski as they continued searching for sharks.
Supervisor Don Clavin said the patrols will continue through the summer.
“Considering these predators are coming close to the shoreline, we’ll have lifeguards patrolling for everyone’s safety,” Clavin said
Oyster Bay lifeguards spotted an unknown species of shark about 3 p.m. and closed swimming at Tobay Beach. There were no additional sightings on the South Shore.
WHY ARE SHARKS LI BOUND?
- Temperatures are about 70 degrees on Long Island.
- Bait fish or bunker fish attract larger fish like dolphins, rays and porpoises, which in turn attract more sharks.
BULL SHARKS 101
- They are aggressive sharks that feed on fish in warm, shallow waters off the coastline.
- Bull sharks are the second most-dangerous shark to humans behind the great white shark.
- They are rare on Long Island, where there have only been 12 attacks in Nassau County since 1837.