Five shark attacks have been reported off Long Island in two weeks

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Five shark attacks have been reported in the past two weeks off Long Island, NY, including two within hours of Wednesday, a dramatic increase in shark encounters that officials said could represent a “new normal.”

Four of the reported attacks took place on Fire Island in Suffolk County, including two at the popular Smith Point Beach and two near the village of Ocean Beach. The fifth was reported on Jones Beach Island in neighboring Nassau County.

None of the victims were seriously injured and the sharks observed were estimated to be four to five feet long, officials said.

Observations of sharks have increased off the coast of the United States, which scientists attribute to successful conservation efforts that have restored stocks closer to historical levels. Yet the latest wave of attacks was very unusual – there were only 47 confirmed unprovoked attacks nationwide in 2021, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File.

“This is not a precedent in any way in our history here in Suffolk County,” Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone said at a news conference Thursday. “Before the 3rd of July, we had not had a registered shark bite at [Smith Point Beach] since it opened in the beach back in 1959. “

Bellone said the county is deploying drones and increased lifeguard patrols to monitor the water, acknowledging that the increase may represent the “new normal.”

“The idea of ​​more frequent contact with this kind of shark may be what we are going to expect,” Bellone said at a separate news conference Wednesday, ahead of the fifth attack.

The first of the latest attacks took place on June 30, when a 57-year-old man swimming at Jones Beach received a laceration on his right foot, which paramedics identified as a “possible shark bite,” according to the Nassau County Police Department.

Three days later, Zach Gallo, 33, a lifeguard at Smith Point Beach, played the role of a victim in a rescue exercise when he himself became one, WABC reported. He felt a shark about four feet whip him with his tail and then bite his hand, according to the station.

“I felt a pressure in my hand, pulled it back, and I just started hammering, hitting, and I connected with the shark three times, and then the third time it spun away,” Gallo told WABC. “I guess my adrenaline, survival instincts started.”

Gallo returned to work on Thursday and said at the press conference with Bellone that he was grateful that his injuries were minor and that his other lifeguards came to his aid.

“If you go into the sea, make sure you go into an area protected by lifeguards,” Gallo said.

On July 7, first-year lifeguard John Mullins, 17, was bitten in his foot while also playing the role of a victim during a training exercise near Ocean Beach, according to CBS New York.

“The teeth were inside my skin, and when I pulled my foot out, it just felt like a scrape, like a tear going up my foot,” Mullins told the station. “We never expect to be attacked while training, but they handled it well.”

Mullins received five stitches and was out of work while his foot healed, CBS New York reported.

Wednesday morning, a surfer was bitten by an approximately four-foot tiger shark, leaving a four-inch gash, according to Bellone. The man was knocked off his board and saw the shark circling back towards him, but a wave led him into the shore, Bellone said.

About 11 hours later, police were called to Seaview Beach after a 49-year-old Arizona man standing in “deep water” was bitten from behind on his left wrist and buttocks, according to Suffolk County police. He got out of the water and was taken by helicopter to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening, police said.

Christopher Paparo, head of the Marine Science Center at Stony Brook University, said the series of attacks is “absolutely something you don’t hear every day,” but stressed that the chances of encountering a shark remain “very low.”

He said the sharks off Long Island are mostly sand tiger sharks, sandfish sharks and dark sharks, all fish eaters who are likely to attack humans mistakenly while hunting baitfish.

“They don’t have teeth or jaw structure where they could eat a person even if they wanted to,” he said. “They are not out there looking for a swimmer or surfer.”

Paparo said the increase in meetings is a “sign that we are doing things right” in terms of conservation.

“What happened in the ’50s,’ 60s, ’70s, they were heavily fished, and many of their populations were nearing complete collapse,” he said. “So through the regulation and conservation of not only sharks but their food – the Atlantic menhad, better known as piles – these populations have returned, and we are now beginning to see them again in the number they used to be.”

Paparo said beachgoers should swim in lifeguard-protected areas and avoid the water when it is foaming or they see shoal fish. Sharks also typically feed more at dawn and dusk, he added.

Bellone said officials do not expect any serious damage from shark attacks given the species that have been seen, but urged beachgoers to be aware of their surroundings. Do not wear shiny jewelry or walk in the water while bleeding and stay closer to shore, he said.

At a news conference Sunday, Bruce Blakeman of Nassau County even jumped into the water in an attempt to reassure beachgoers that they can avoid sharks with simple precautions.

“If you’re going out to sea, it’s good to go with a partner. Always go to a protected beach where there are lifeguards,” Blakeman said. “If you do those things, you will be safe.”

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