This story was reported by Vera Chinese and multimedia journalist Cecilia Dowd. It was written by Chinese.
Just two thoughts went through lifeguard Zachari Gallo's head as he fended off a shark Sunday afternoon at Smith Point County Park: Get this creature off me and get to shore.
“I start, you know, hammer punching down,” Gallo, 33, recounted in an interview outside his Bayport home Monday afternoon. “I feel rubber as I'm punching. I had hit it three times and on the third time, [the] shark flung its body and … swam away from me.”
At the time of the attack, Gallo was treading in waist-deep water and playing the part of a victim in a lifeguard drill. He said when he felt a sharp pain in his hand, he at first did not know he had been bitten by a shark.
It wasn't until the animal retreated and he could see the length of its five-foot body, grayish-brown skin and telltale dorsal fin that he realized he had had a run-in with the ocean’s most-feared predator.
“I'm just glad survival instincts kicked in,” he said.
After the shark fled, Gallo's colleagues applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding in his hand and he noticed he had been nicked in the chest. The wounds were minor, however, and he received just two stitches in his hand at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, where he was treated and released.
The attack occurred about 75 yards from the beach, within traditional swimming areas, said Suffolk County Parks Commissioner Jason Smagin. It is the first reported shark encounter since Smith Point County Park opened in 1959.
Beaches in Smith Point and Cupsogue reopened Monday for swimming after they were both temporarily closed Sunday.
Drones were sent up Monday at Smith Point to look for sharks, and lifeguards started an hour early to help evaluate the water for any sign of the predators, according to county officials. They also monitored the waters off nearby Cupsogue Beach County Park in Westhampton Beach.
Smagin said lifeguards would patrol on land with binoculars and in the water with personal watercraft, paddle boards, kayaks and surfboards.
“I just want to emphasize to the public, please listen to the lifeguards,” he said.
Raven Ingarra of Moriches, who was visiting the beach Monday with her young children, Milanya and Rocco, downloaded a shark-tracking app and said she used the attack as a learning tool. The trio waded in the water ankle-deep, with Milanya saying she both feared and was in awe of sharks.
“I’m a little bit scared and I like them a little bit,” she said.
Ray Springsteen of Bellport said he’d been visiting Smith Point for all of his 42 years and the news of a shark bite wouldn’t keep him from the waves.
“Not at all,” he said. “There’s been sharks here forever. I know they’re there.”
Sunday’s attack was likely the second involving a shark off Long Island waters in recent days.
On Thursday, a 37-year-old man was swimming off Jones Beach at 1 p.m. when he was bitten on his right foot, Nassau police said Friday. Medics from the police department's Emergency Ambulance Bureau responded and identified the injury as a possible shark bite, authorities said.
The man, who was not identified, was taken to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, where he was treated for his injury, according to Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman.
As for Gallo, he said he isn’t afraid to return to the ocean and will do so when he is medically cleared. He even made light of the situation, dressing his four-month-old son Zachari Jr. in a shark-themed outfit Monday.
“We're entering their world,” he said. “I respect the ocean and respect that there's animals out there. Can't control everything about it.”