BEACHES IN N.Y. IMPROVE SAFETY PROCEDURES WITH INCREASE OF SHARKS
By: Jojo Zhan
With shark sightings increasing, lifeguards, police, and staff members are stepping up shark patrols to ensure sharks don’t feed on bait too close to swimmers.
Shark patrols have really stepped up their game after a sharp uptick in sightings last summer along the more than 100 miles of Long Island’s Beaches. Police officers survey the waters by boat and helicopter while a lifeguard on a Jet Ski circles the ocean continuously. “It’s become part of our daily routine,” said Justine Anderson, a lifeguard supervisor of the shark patrols her Town of Hempstead lifeguards has begun this summer. “We’ll patrol throughout the day and respond immediately if we get a report of a shark sighting.”
Anderson said that shark sightings had been exceedingly rare in the past. But last summer reported daily instances of sharks feeding on baitfish alarmingly close to swimmers, causing swimming areas along Long Island’s oceanfront to close temporarily. A 10-foot mako shark washed up at Point Lookout Beach over Memorial Day this summer, leading to another round of shark headlines.
Authorities say that just last week, a man might have been bitten by a shark while swimming at Jones Beach.
In past years lifeguards who work summers on Long Island beaches are expected to keep an eye out for the occasional dorsal fins and examine the validity of reports from agitated beachgoers who swear they just saw the second coming of “Jaws.” But now the shark situation is taken a lot more seriously by lifesaving departments on Long Island which are simultaneously facing staffing issues among a national lifeguard shortage.
The county police would be increasing patrols this summer, both by boat and by helicopter, to do hourly runs over the shoreline Bruce Blakeman, the Nassau County executive, had announced during a news conference on Friday at Nickerson Beach. New shark-monitoring strategies have also been adopted by numerous other departments across Long Island. Lifesaving tools have been expanded to include drones, Jet Skis and paddle boards, even online shark tracking. Shark patrol by boat and helicopter are also now required by local police departments. “It’s like a new world we’re living in,” Cary Epstein, a veteran guard at Jones Beach, said. “In my 25 years as a lifeguard, we never had to do this.”
“This isn’t ‘Jaws,’ we’re not talking about a great white, man-eating machine — but if a thresher shark comes through and takes a nibble on your foot, that could be a problem,” said Mr. Epstein.
As a new aerial shark-monitoring program, nearly 20 lifeguards as well as park police and other beach staff members at Jones Beach and Robert Moses State Park have been trained to operate a fleet of seven drones. Additional lifeguards have been hired this summer to look out for sharks and utilize Jet Skis for shark patrol at Town of Hempstead beaches along with a drone squad. The town’s ocean guards have also been trained to differentiate between shark species, to determine the more dangerous kinds. In addition to rescue techniques and C.P.R. And in East Hampton, an online shark tracker is being used to keep an eye out for the return of large sharks like Mary Lee, a 4,000-pound, 17-foot-long great white that has been tagged with a tracking device.
Marine experts say the sharks pose no actual threat to swimmers and local attacks are extremely rare. They say shark patrols do little but encourage unwanted terror of sharks. “very overblown” is what Hans Walters, field scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium who has spent over a decade studying sharks in New York Waters, described the recent hype over sharks near beaches as. He says the threat of sharks to people is practically nonexistent as there is no real evidence that local shark populations have increased in recent years. “The danger to people is infinitesimal.”
Nevertheless, public concerns continue to rise as many beach operators attempt to assure beachgoers that they are watching out for them.
A Long Island fisherman Chris Stefanou, 26, takes part in a federal shark-tagging program that monitors shark migration. He says the amount of sharks in local waters each year have increased along with the water temperatures.
“There are more and more sharks in the water, which sounds scary,” He said. “But it’s actually a good thing because it reflects a healthy ecosystem.”