Long Island Shark-Attack Story Is Summer News at Its Finest

Beachgoers at Smith Point County Park on July 15. Photo: John Minchillo/AP/Shutterstock

If you’re a New Yorker looking to squeeze every drop of enjoyment out of summer 2022, I have two recommendations for you. First, get this rechargeable mosquito-repeller; I’m a chronic mosquito victim, but I’ve yet to get a bite while using it. Second, start following the news about the shark attacks and sightings off the coast of Long Island. It’s a story that has just about everything you could want in a news report, at a time of year when things traditionally slow down, to the point that journalists resort to writing about senators wearing seersucker. Here, why it’s the perfect summer diversion.

It’s easy to understand.

Many big stories in the news recently require some understanding of things like COVID-19 subvariants, cryptocurrency, and a multifaceted plot to steal the 2020 election. In contrast, the Long Island shark story is so simple that 6-year-olds can follow it. There have been six shark attacks on Long Island, mostly in Suffolk County, in the past three weeks:

  • On June 30, a 57-year-old man suffered a laceration on his right foot while swimming in the ocean at Jones Beach in Nassau County. Medics who responded said it was a “possible shark bite.”
  • On July 3, lifeguard Zachari Gallo was pretending to be a drowning victim in a training session at Smith Point Beach when a shark “nipped” his hand and chest. Gallo punched the shark three times and swam back to shore.
  • On July 7, 17-year-old lifeguard John Mullins, who was also playing the victim in a training exercise, was bitten on his foot at Fire Island’s Ocean Beach. Other lifeguards helped bring him to shore, and he received five stitches at a local hospital.
  • On the morning of July 13, surfer Shawn Donnelly was attacked at the same beach. While he was lying on his board, a shark swam up and chomped into his left calf. Donnelly slapped the shark once and caught a wave that brought him back to the shore.
  • On the evening of July 13, a 49-year-old man from Arizona was bitten on the wrist and buttocks while standing in waist-deep water on Fire Island’s Seaview Beach. He walked out of the water and was flown to a hospital.
  • On July 20, 16-year-old surfer Max Haynes was bitten on his right foot while surfing about 20 yards off of Kismet on Fire Island. The bite was minor, leaving about a 4-inch cut. He paddled to the shore and was treated by his dad, an EMT, then taken to the hospital.

No one has been seriously injured.

Let the record show that I am staunchly anti–shark attack. As a lifelong Long Islander, I want everyone to be able to enjoy our beaches to the fullest without being nibbled on by sea creatures, and I’m sorry that the six victims went through such a horrifying ordeal. “I have never been more scared in my entire life,” Donnelly told the New York Post. “I screamed and flailed.”

But thankfully none of these victims suffered debilitating injuries. We’re mainly talking about four-to five-foot sharks, not the ferocious, man-eating, 20-foot Jaws variety. (A 7-8 foot great white shark did wash up on a beach in Quogue on July 20, but it was dead. Researchers identified a suspected great white nursery off the shores of Long Island years ago.) Gallo needed only two stitches and antibiotics, and he told ABC7 New York that he’s grateful that he “walked away with a minor — a minor injury.”

“I felt pressure in my hand, pulled it back, and I just started hammering, punching, and I connected with the shark three times. And then on the third time, it spun away,” Gallo recalled. “Blood was pouring down my hand and arm. I actually didn’t even realize I was nicked in my chest. I guess my adrenaline, survival instincts kicked in.”

Mullins said he “didn’t really feel the bite at first” and described the sensation as “like a scrape, like a rake going up my foot.”

Similarly, Donnelly initially thought he had escaped his shark encounter unharmed. “I did a quick check. I thought maybe he didn’t get me. Then I saw the blood running down my leg and one clear bite mark,” Donnelly told Newsday.

Local officials are taking action.

There has been no shortage of doom and gloom in the news of late, and it often feels like the response at the national level is limited to politicians saying, “Huh, that’s pretty bad, but what are you gonna do?”

This shark story is the opposite. On Monday, Governor Kathy Hochul announced that the state is stepping up efforts to spot sharks lurking offshore through increased drone surveillance and lifeguard staffing.

“We can notify people of the presence of sharks,” Hochul said. “As soon as they’re detected, red flags go up on the beach, and people are to clear the water for at least an hour. That way, we can protect people with an earlier notification, and it’s a more coordinated effort, as well as adding more lifeguards to the beaches for surveillance.”

Okay, but do we really have the money and the man power to combat this shark infestation? Turns out we do! Per Newsday:

State parks will increase lifeguard staffing at ocean beaches by 25%, which the governor’s office said translates to 2 to 4 lifeguards present at each field. They will utilize overtime to account for the increase, Hochul’s office said.

Long Island State Parks are fully staffed with about 500 lifeguards, thanks in part to 21% pay raises for downstate lifeguards approved by the state in June, parks officials said. Those staffers are prepared to put in the extra hours, said Ryan Clark, president of the New York State Lifeguard Corps, the lifeguard union.

“Our primary mission is to make sure that everybody who comes to the State Parks goes home the same way that they arrived,” said Clark, who is typically stationed at Jones Beach East Bath House.

You can do something, too!

This is not one of those issues where all you can do is give up plastic straws and complain to the intern handling your senator’s phone line. If you’re not interested in getting gnawed on by a shark, you can follow these safety tips from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:

-Avoid areas with seals.

-Avoid areas with schools of bait fish, often characterized by fish splashing on the surface, diving sea birds, or the presence of marine mammals such as dolphins.

-Avoid areas where people are fishing.

-Avoid swimming in the ocean at dusk, dawn, or nighttime.

-Avoid murky water.

-Avoid isolation. Swim, paddle, kayak, and surf in groups.

-Swim close to shore, where your feet can touch the bottom.

-Always follow the instructions of lifeguards and Parks staff.

-Adhere to all signage at beaches.

You can also take comfort in the knowledge that it’s still very unlikely that you’ll be a shark-bite victim. As the Washington Post notes, the recent spate of attacks in New York is unusually high, as there were only 47 unprovoked attacks nationwide in 2021. And your risk of dying in a shark attack is just one in 4.3 million.

Christopher Paparo, manager of the Marine Science Center at Stony Brook University, told the Post that the uptick in shark incidents is a sign that conservation efforts are working. The sharks that live in the waters off Long Island are mostly sand-tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, and dusky sharks that are probably mistaking humans for fish.

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

It’s bringing New Yorkers together.

Sharks have (almost) nothing to do with politics, so it’s a safe topic to discuss with everyone from your socialist Gen-Z cousin to your MAGA-hat-wearing neighbor. And your local pride will swell every time you see a beachgoer bragging to a local news anchor about how the possibility of losing an appendage won’t keep them out of the Atlantic.

“It’s a chance you take. It’s the ocean. That’s their habitat!” a defiant Brian Lewis of Riverhead told Newsday TV when asked if he was worried about going back in the water.

“We’re New Yorkers. We can survive anything,” added Annie Volaski of Rosedale. “Even a shark.”

This post was updated to include the sixth shark bite incident.


Long Island Shark-Attack Story Is Summer News at Its Finest