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DEC official confirms 13-year-old boy was bitten by shark off Fire Island

Shark attacks are rare on Long Island, and the predator is believed to have been pursuing bunker fish or some other marine prey.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed Thursday that a 13-year-old boy wounded Wednesday off Atlantique Beach was indeed bitten by a shark. Investigators examined a fragment of a tooth extracted from the boy's leg. A 12-year-old girl also was bitten Wednesday, possibly by a shark, at nearby Sailors Haven beach, also on Fire Island, prompting lifeguards and officials to be on heightened alert. (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Raisa Camargo, Sabrina Escobar, Nicholas Spangler, Joan Gralla and Ellen Yan. It was written by Gralla.

A 13-year-old boy was bitten by a shark at Fire Island's Atlantique Beach, a state official confirmed Thursday after experts analyzed a fragment of a tooth removed from his leg.

The tooth fragment was "consistent" with a shark's tooth, but due to its condition and size, experts could not determine the species of shark, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement. The tooth was returned to the boy at his request, DEC officials said.

The age and size of the shark in the Wednesday attack could not be determined, James Gilmore, director of the DEC's Division of Marine Resources, said at a news conference at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip.

Experts believe a 12-year-old girl who was attacked 15 minutes before the boy at Fire Island's Sailors Haven beach also may have been bitten by a shark based on the nature of her wound, but they could not say for sure Thursday.

Shark attacks are uncommon on Long Island, and the predators — likely young sand or tiger sharks — probably were pursuing bunker fish, swordfish or some other species, experts said.

“It was a case of mistaken identity,” Gilmore said. “This is a very rare event.”

Lola Pollina said she was in the water at Sailors Haven beach around 11:15 a.m. Wednesday when she felt “a quick pull” and saw a fin and a whirlpool. She suffered injuries to her leg.

Less than five miles away, the boy, taking part in a kids' day camp, was carried out of the water with more serious wounds by an Islip Town lifeguard, who noticed him struggling about 10 yards offshore, town officials said.

Gilmore believes two different creatures were responsible for the attacks, saying it would have been impossible for the one that bit Pollina to have swum fast enough to attack the boy.

Neither child suffered life-threatening injuries. The boy was treated Wednesday at Bay Shore's Southside Hospital and released the same day, a hospital spokesman said Thursday.

Lola was treated and released at Good Samaritan on Wednesday. She returned Thursday because doctors were concerned about blood flow to the skin by the largest bite. She underwent "routine and precautionary" surgery, Dr. Jay Itzkowitz said.

“She’s doing very well, very stable,” he said.

Speaking at the news conference with Gilmore and Itzkowitz, Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter commended lifeguards for their quick responses Wednesday.

"We are just so grateful that the two children who were bitten are going to be fine," she said.

Recent heavy surf has clouded the water, possibly confusing smaller and younger sharks, so they swim closer than the 50 feet or so they typically stay off shore. Bigger, adult sharks prefer more open waters to avoid “grounding” themselves, Gilmore said.

Recent increases in the schools of fish that sharks consume are raising their numbers, too.

“This time of year we just have a lot of shark species,” Gilmore said.

Two 8-foot sand sharks were caught about 100 feet off Atlantique Beach on Thursday, Carpenter said.

Lifeguards also spotted a sand shark estimated at 3 1/2 feet in length at the Central Mall at Jones Beach on Thursday, said George Gorman, Long Island deputy regional director for state parks. Swimmers were immediately ordered out of the water. After a State Police helicopter saw only dolphins and stingrays, the ocean was reopened to swimmers.

State Park Police also sent a drone over the ocean at Robert Moses State Park on Wednesday to try to find a shark that had been reported, but nothing was found.

This is the first summer that drones flown by law enforcement officers kept watch over the waters off the Jones Beach and Robert Moses state parks, Gorman said.

He said State Park Police, who are coordinating the coverage, "are regularly monitoring the beaches to ensure we have real-time information to ensure there are no dangers in the water.”

On Friday, the state Parks Department will extend lifeguard coverage until 8 p.m. and bring in additional lifeguards to patrol by surf boat near swimming areas, officials said. Drones again will be deployed, they said.

Several South Shore beaches had been closed after the attacks Wednesday, but DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said Thursday that state beaches would be reopened for swimming with additional lifeguards monitoring the water and patrols continuing along the Fire Island shoreline.

"We urge swimmers to be vigilant and will continue to do everything we can to protect beachgoers," he said.

All of Islip's beaches on Fire Island — Atlantique, Kismet, Dunewood, Fair Harbor and Seaview — were reopened late Thursday morning with lifeguards and town and police officials on heightened alert, town spokeswoman Caroline Smith said. However, participants in the town-run Atlantique Children's Camp were not allowed into the ocean Thursday, Smith said.

The National Park Service said shark biting incidents are rare and advised beachgoers to stay close to shore, swim between the flags at lifeguarded beaches, and never swim alone. Its lifeguarded beaches in Sailors Haven and Watch Hill also reopened to swimmers Thursday.

So did beaches in the Town of Babylon.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the DEC will “lead a multiagency investigation into the apparent juvenile shark attacks.” The DEC said it was working with the state Parks Department, Suffolk County and other agencies to reduce potential conflicts with sharks.

At Sailors Haven on Thursday, most swimmers stayed close to shore, watched over by four lifeguards.

Jerry Benedetto, of Sayville, who was at the beach with his wife and daughter, said he has never heard of a shark attack in the many years he’s been living on Long Island.

“I’ll be a little bit more vigilant, but it’s not going to stop me from going in,” Benedetto said. “We’ve been going in for years. Sharks have always been there. You can’t all of a sudden stop going.”

But it will take Liz Seibert of Sayville a while before she gets comfortable going in more than knee deep. Seibert said she saw emergency responders tend to the girl on Wednesday. She and her husband decided to stay away from swimming this time out.

“I’m a little leery about going into the water,” Seibert said.

Amber Hershey of Virginia was being extra cautious with her kids, Jackson, 9, and Landon, 11, as they splashed along with the incoming waves. They were allowed to go only ankle deep in the water.

“They’re not going out too far,” she said. “We’re keeping an eye out.”

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