Essay: It’s Always Shark Week in the Ocean – Huntington Now
“People swim with sharks all the time, they just don’t know it”, Hans Walters, a shark
expert at the New York Aquarium, told WCBS 880 news amid recent spate of shark bites
people in this area.
I saw it quite clearly – and surprisingly – a few years ago from our sailboat heading from Long Island to the Elizabeth Islands off Massachusetts.
We were cruising along the Rhode Island coast and, passing a busy beach, I walked closer to shore to see what a Rhode Island beach might look like. Holding the tiller with my left hand, I watched people frolicking in the water – and between them and me, 10 feet from our boat, a shark’s fin appeared. I doubt any of these swimmers knew a shark was out there.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said of the shark situation here, “there may be a
new reality in which we find ourselves. It’s a scary “new reality” for those who love swimming in the ocean.
Governor Kathy Hochul in Suffolk announced enhanced shark surveillance last week
efforts. “Whether on land, at sea or in the air, we are going to have more robust patrols on the
shores,” she said. State Police drones and helicopters will be used, and there will be more
lifeguards at state beaches.
A website called “Xplore Our Planet” which describes itself “as a resource for wildlife
enthusiasts and those who like to explore the world” declares: “Swimming with sharks sounds
dangerous, but it’s not, relatively speaking anyway. Everything in life involves risk, but swimming
with sharks is very low on the list. only five people [worldwide] are killed every year—that’s 100
times less than by elephants – and these attacks are often either accidental in case of mistaken identity, or provoked by humans. OK, but you also have to consider injuries, like in Florida
this month requiring the amputation of part of a young woman’s leg.
“Swimming with sharks is safe if you do it right,” the website says. But “how do you
swimming with sharks safely? First, he advises “Be careful around the big three”. He said, “Almost
each serious or fatal incident is caused by a gathering of only three animals: great white sharks,
bull sharks and tiger sharks. OK, but how can an average person identify those among the most
more than 500 species of sharks would be present in the seas of the world?
Then he said, “A wading fish or a panicked seal tells them it’s feeding time, and they go
load up for an easy kill. If you are having difficulty and start to fuss, or jump in and out
water with too much enthusiasm, you will mimic the sensations of injured prey and invite the
opportunity for confusion and accidental attack. But not “wave” or be
enthusiastic in the water, is it still possible?
Then there is “Consider the water conditions”. “Xplore Our Planet” says: “Despite the popularity
misconceptions, sharks have excellent eyesight. But, this view doesn’t work in trouble
waters….Good visibility is key to safe swimming with sharks, if only for the sharks to know you
are not on the dinner menu. Okay, but the ocean off Long Island isn’t usually that clear, not like the
Caribbean, for example. Opacity is common.
And then there is “group diving”. The website says, “An isolated target, by nature, is less than
a threat and more vulnerable. By swimming in a group, you exhibit what might be called a union
front against aggression. OK, but not so easy if there are few people on a beach.
A big question for this area: why suddenly so many shark attacks?
Explanations given focus on climate change and warmer ocean temperatures
sharks in the ocean waters of Long Island – and that is, I think, indeed the main problem. Another explanation: an increase in bunker fish that sharks like to feed on. Another explanation: the ocean
the waters are cleaner these days off Long Island and that encourages sharks to come here.
Newsday just ran an op-ed titled “Now Our Woes Include Sharks.” He started noticing
that to “the pressurized fire hose of catastrophic problems hurled daily into our lives, let us add
sharks.” But, he pointed out, “there are an average of five shark deaths per year worldwide, and
approximately 236,000 deaths by drowning. And the shark-centric resources dumped on Long Island
beaches, including drones and patrols, can only answer the big question in the affirmative: yes,
there are absolutely sharks there. But in many ways, shark attacks are the most fixed danger
on, because the sharks probably won’t get us. OK people, stop staring.
I learned to swim primarily in Long Island Sound. On the shark side, it’s not the Atlantic. But
Yet a 10ft great white shark was spotted in the sound off Connecticut in 2019. It was tagged
in 2018 so later in 2019, CNN reported, “was detected…in New York Bay, south of Long
The project aims to clean the water and revive the harvest of oysters