Warmer summer waters and an abundance of fish could mean...

Warmer summer waters and an abundance of fish could mean another summer of shark sightings off Long Island's South Shore beaches. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The shark species that undulate in the waters off Long Island during beach season — frightening swimmers, surfers and other beachgoers — are starting to come to town.

The forecast is for a shark season similar to the past five years, said Greg Metzger, chief field coordinator for the shark program at the South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton, based on ocean conditions and the regular presence of the fish sharks eat, such as Atlantic menhaden, squid, blue fish, striped bass and fluke.

“The water’s not quite warm enough yet for the summer sharks to be here. It’ll probably be similar to what we have been experiencing over the last five years, but until the temperature’s here, and the food is here, and the sharks are here, we really won’t know for sure,” Metzger said.

While scientists disagree on why more sharks are in the area, possible factors include warmer ocean waters off Long Island, the near-shore appearance of schools of menhaden that might draw sharks in pursuit, cleaner water, and government protection.

    WHAT TO KNOW

  • Sharks are likely to once again appear off Long Island beaches this summer.
  • Experts say possible factors attracting them include warmer water and bait fish such as bunker swimming closer to shore.
  • Last year, shark sightings led to the closing of several beaches in the region for hours, and sometimes days.

Last summer, there were multiple reports of shark sightings in the region, including several that closed beaches for hours, and one in which a woman in the Rockaways was critically injured.

“When people come to the beach, we want their biggest concern to be a sunburn, not a shark bite,” said Hempstead Town Supervisor Donald X. Clavin Jr., who has beefed up efforts to protect humans from sharks.

Among the reports of shark bites last year was one particularly unnerving July stretch: a 15-year-old girl at Robert Moses State Park, followed later that same afternoon off Kismet Beach by a boy, also 15. The day after, a 47-year-old man reported having been bitten off Quogue Village Beach, and just minutes later a 49-year-old man reported he was bitten off Fire Island Pines Beach. Then there was a fifth report: a woman off Cherry Grove.

Although there are always sharks in the Island’s waters — different species are here during the winter — about 10 species encountered by humans at the beach tend to be in the area starting around Memorial Day, staying for four or five months, before swimming south to the Carolinas, Florida or the Gulf of Mexico.

“They start showing up by the end of May, beginning of June, and they’ll be in Long Island waters through typically the middle to end of October,” Metzger said.

The sharks generally tend to show up in warmer water, and so there are more sharks in July off Nassau's South Shore before they move east in August toward Suffolk and the East End.

State and local governments have deployed shark-detecting technology to spot and warn the public of the presence of sharks. For example, Gov. Kathy Hochul marked Shark Awareness Day last year by deploying dozens of drones into the maritime skies.

Hochul’s office on Thursday said the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has added “renewed surveillance capability, including more drones and drone operators” for Long Island. That meant five more drones with 17 currently in operation, including six at Jones Beach and four at Robert Moses. That brings the total to 22.

The state parks office on the Island has 29 trained drone pilots, and there will be at least 11 more by July 4. One of the drones has thermal imaging, laser range finding and high-quality cameras that allow for nighttime rescues, even in bad weather.

Although humans don't love seeing them when they are swimming, sharks are ocean predators that play a vital role in the local ecosystem and the food web. Laws and other regulations have been put in place over the past decades to protect sharks and replenish their population.

Conservation practices — such as restrictions on killing certain sharks, and limiting the day’s catch or size and hook types — have yielded results. The number of sharks in the waters off Long Island has grown or at least become more stable than in the 1970s and 1980s, when there was a major push to catch sharks in an effort to boost the commercial fishing industry.

“The populations are starting to come back a little bit. We’re starting to see, instead of the graph going down, down, down, which is what it’s been doing, in the last five years, that graph has started to come up for some shark species or at least slow in the decline,” Metzger said, adding: “So, going back five to 10 years, there are more sharks in Long Island waters, because of an increase in population.”

Clavin, whose town includes the coastlines off Long Beach, said, “In the last four years, we have had more shark sightings on the South Shore of Long Island than they did for almost the prior two decades.”

Town lifeguards are being trained not just for swimmer safety and first-aid techniques but also dorsal identification, so the lifeguards can distinguish between, say, a dolphin’s fin and a shark’s. Also on shark duty: bay constables on patrol, as well as drones “going up and down the shoreline looking for sharks,” and a Jet Ski patrol, Clavin said.

“By having the Jet Ski patrols, they can actually come so close to the shoreline, and we’ve had success in identifying sharks,” he said.

Although all indicators point to another season in which beachgoers have to be on the lookout for sharks, the number of these predators that will actually show up near local beaches in the next few months is anyone’s guess.

“There’s no way to know what this year’s actually going to look like until it’s here,” Metzger said.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Latest Videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME