State parks prepare for busy summer of sharks


Excited about summer, but nervous about sharks? There are a few things to know.

Above all, state officials have a comprehensive plan they say will ensure swimmers and boaters will be safe from sharks this summer. Joining forces to make that happen are the state’s parks, recreation, and historic preservation office, along with the environmental conservation department and the state police. All will increase surveillance along every state park beach.

“With New Yorkers and visitors alike preparing to enjoy our beautiful Long Island beaches all summer long, their safety is our top priority,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said, in a release. “I encourage all New Yorkers to listen to local authorities, follow guidance, and take precautions to ensure a safe and responsible beach trip this summer.”

How state officials will patrol parks deserves a big thanks from technology. Some 18 drones will monitor beaches for sharks — up from eight last year, Nearly three-dozen state staffers — from police to lifeguards — have or will be trained, all by Fourth of July weekend. 

Two new Yamaha WaveRunners — what many might know as jetskis — have been assigned to lifeguards to patrol both Jones Beach and Robert Moses state parks.

To keep swimmers away from high levels of fish activity — where sharks are more likely to prowl — buffer zones will be created between swimming areas and surf fishing areas.

“The action being taken along the South Shore of Long Island will give us eyes in the sky and along the coastline,” state parks commissioner Eric Kulleseid said. “Over the past two seasons, we’ve learned that drones are the most effective mechanism to detect environmental conditions that could attribute to shark activity.”

Those environmental conditions include areas with seals, schools of fish, diving birds, and murky water. Shark activity also can be higher at dusk, night and dawn, according to experts. 

Should a shark be sighted at any beach, swimming will be suspended for at least one hour. That sighting then will be referred to the Long Island Coastal Awareness Group, an environmental organization which consists of more than 200 people from municipalities, agencies, and private beach operators from Queens and Long Island. 

There was higher-than-usual amount of shark activity off of Long Island last summer, including one documented shark attack on Jones Beach. Other places on the island with confirmed shark attacks included two on Smith Point Beach, and one each on Ocean Beach, Seaview Beach, and Fire Island. 

The Ocean Beach attack was identified as a sand tiger shark, which is native to Long Island’s waters. Typically docile, these are the sharks one might see on a trip to the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead. 

One of the attacks at Smith Point Beach was confirmed to be a tiger shark — most likely a juvenile.

None of the attacks were fatal, but the increased activity prompted the environmental conservation department to ease fears. State biologists Jim Gilmore and Chris Scott made two things clear to reporters last year — shark activity is not as dangerous as “Jaws” might lead you to believe. And shark activity means the environment of Long Island waters is doing well. 

According to Gilmore and Scott, Long Island beachgoers may have let their guard down in recent years because the environment had not been thriving enough to support normal levels of shark activity. 

“Many of our coastal shark species are protected now because they had declined,” Gilmore said, at the time. “And they were an important predator in the marine environment. So overall, this is good news for the marine environment and our ecosystems.”

Scott emphasized that seeing these ocean predators at Long Island beaches is completely normal.

“If you went to the woods in Alaska, you might see a bear,” he said. “If you go to the ocean here on Long Island, you might interact with a shark.”