Bolstered lifeguard staff and more drones buzzing above Long Island state beaches are part of a stepped-up state effort to find sharks lurking offshore, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday.
The governor's announcement of heightened surveillance is the latest attempt to stem shark attacks and prevent additional swimmers from being bitten.
In the past three weeks, there have been at least four confirmed shark bites off Long Island South Shore beaches and possibly a fifth, and multiple sightings reported by lifeguards, police and beachgoers.
Two of the shark attacks occurred in waters off Smith Point County Park and two more off Fire Island. None of the attacks were life threatening. There were three shark sightings Saturday at Jones Beach and another Sunday at Lido Beach, officials said.
State parks will increase lifeguard staffing at ocean beaches by 25%, which the governor's office said translates to 2 to 4 lifeguards present at each field. They will utilize overtime to account for the increase, Hochul's office said.
Long Island State Parks are fully staffed with about 500 lifeguards, thanks in part to 21% pay raises for downstate lifeguards approved by the state in June, parks officials said. Those staffers are prepared to put in the extra hours, said Ryan Clark, president of the New York State Lifeguards Corps, the lifeguard union.
“Our primary mission is to make sure that everybody who comes to the State Parks goes home the same way that they arrived,” said Clark, who is typically stationed at Jones Beach East Bathhouse.
Lifeguards have been among the recent casualties. A shark bit a lifeguard in the left foot off Ocean Beach on July 7. On July 3, a shark bit a Suffolk lifeguard on the chest and hand as he took part in a training drill off the shore of Smith Point County Park.
Drone surveillance for sharks will expand to 11 miles from four, Jones Beach will get an additional two drones for a total of three, Robert Moses State Park will receive a second drone and Hither Hills State Park will get its first.
Long Island state parks now have 13 licensed drone operators on staff and counting, up from one at this time last year, said George Gorman, Long Island regional director for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
“We can cover Jones Beach from end to end with the drones we have now, and out at Robert Moses and Montauk,” Gorman said.
Additional upgrades to shoreline surveillance will include deployments of park police patrol boats to conduct surveillance searches and dispatching State Police helicopter patrols over South Shore ocean waters.
"As New Yorkers and visitors alike head to our beautiful Long Island beaches to enjoy the summer, our top priority is their safety," Hochul said in a statement Monday, adding: "We are taking action to expand patrols for sharks and protect beachgoers from potentially dangerous situations. I encourage all New Yorkers to listen to local authorities and take precautions to help ensure safe and responsible beach trips this summer."
The governor also directed state agencies to expand public outreach regarding shark safety resources and education.
The State Department of Environmental Conservation issued a series of safety tips Monday, as well, aimed at minimizing shark interactions.
These include avoiding areas with seals and keeping away from schools of bait fish. The agency recommends that bathers also avoid where people are fishing and murky water.
Other tips: Avoid swimming at dusk, dawn or nighttime; be sure to stay close to shore; and swim, paddle, kayak and surf in groups.
Increased patrols are good news and hopefully can lessen the threat of more serious injuries, said Scott Curatolo-Wagemann, a marine biologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, as well as a shark educator and a shark attack survivor. He noted that the recent attacks reported off Long Island have been somewhat mild, unlike the gash he endured when a lemon shark attacked him in the Bahamas 28 years ago.
“You don't want to see something that is going to be more serious,” Curatolo-Wagemann said. “That prevention there is probably worth it.”
Still, serious shark attacks are rare, experts say. The lifetime threat of a fatal shark attack is 1 in 3.7 million, according to the International Shark Attack File, a database housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.
While the victims in the recent local incidents obtained medical attention relatively quickly, it took five hours, a plane ride and a lot of blood lost before Curatolo-Wagemann arrived at a hospital in Nassau, Bahamas where he received 50 stitches. The injury permanently damaged his tendons and muscles leaving him without use of an ankle.
Curatolo-Wagemann, who is a member of the Facebook group “Bite Club” which is made of mostly Australian shark attack victims, said survivors share a kinship.
“It’s a fun club, but the entry requirements are a pain to deal with,” he said.
Shark attack facts
- The risk of a shark attack is extremely low. There were 73 unprovoked bites and 39 provoked bites reported worldwide in 2021.
- There were 26 fatal shark attacks in the U.S. between 1959 and 2021, none in New York.
- Florida leads the world in unprovoked bites with 28 reported in 2021.
- Surfers and those participating in board sports account for 51% of attacks.
Source: International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History