“People swim with sharks all the time, they just don’t know it,” Hans Walters, a shark expert at the New York Aquarium, told Manhattan-based WCBS 880 news amid the recent series of sharks moving north and biting people in ocean waters off the New York Metropolitan Area.

Shark bites have also occurred through the years in the Mid-Atlantic. According to the website Shark Attack Data, Caleb Kouchak, 18, was bitten in an ankle and knee while surfing at Sandbridge Beach in Prince Anne County in Virginia in 2010. In 2001, David Peltier, 10, died after a shark bit him in the thigh while he was swimming at the same beach.

The website Sharks of Virginia states that between 1900 and 2020 “there were 19 shark attacks in Virginia waters, and four were fatal.”

There have been far fewer shark attacks off Maryland.

Last year, 12-year-old Jordan Prushinaski of Pennsylvania was bitten in a leg by a shark while she was “splashing in shallow water” off Ocean City, Maryland, according to the Baltimore Sun. She needed 42 stitches for the wound.

And the website Shark Attack Data lists only one fatal shark attack off Maryland since 1900, in 1906, occurring after William McFlood, no age listed, fell overboard from a boat in Tangier Sound in Somerset County.

The string of sharks biting people has occurred this year in the New York Metropolitan Area in the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island—from the Rockways to the Hamptons.

Sharks biting people on the northern Atlantic coast has been relatively unusual—until now.

As to people swimming “with sharks all the time, they just don’t know it”—I saw this clearly a number of years ago from our sailboat heading from Long Island, New York to the Elizabeth Islands off Massachusetts (our destination was Cuttyhunk Island).

We were sailing along the coast of Rhode Island and, passing a busy beach, I steered closer to shore to see what a Rhode Island beach might be like. Holding the tiller with my left hand, I looked out at the folks frolicking in the water—and between me and them, 10 feet from our boat, the fin of a shark appeared. I doubt any of those swimmers knew a shark was off shore.

Steve Bellone, the county executive of Suffolk County on Long Island, said amid the string of sharks biting people off Long Island, “there may be a new reality that we’re in.”

It’s a scary “new reality” for those who like to swim in the ocean.

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul in Suffolk County recently announced stepped-up shark surveillance efforts. “Whether it’s land, sea or air, we are going to be having more robust patrols on the shorelines,” she said. Drones and state police helicopters will be utilized, and there’ll be more lifeguards at state beaches.

A website named “Xplore Our Planet” which describes itself “as a resource for wildlife enthusiasts and those who love to explore the world” declares: “Swimming with sharks sounds dangerous, but it isn’t—relatively speaking anyway. All things in life carry risk, but swimming with sharks is very low on the list. Only five people [worldwide] are killed each year—that’s 100 times less than by elephants—and these attacks are often either accidental as a case of mistaken identity or provoked by humans.”

OK, but to be considered, too, are injuries, such as a shark attack in Florida in June requiring the amputation of part of a leg of 17-year-old Addison Bethea who was out scalloping.

“It is safe to swim with sharks if you do it properly,” says the website. But “how do you swim with sharks safely?” First, it advises “Be Careful Around the Big Three.” It says: “Almost every serious or fatal incident is caused by a collection of just three animals: great white sharks, bull sharks, and tiger sharks.”

OK, but how can an average person identify those among the more than 500 shark species said to be in the seas of the world?

Then, it says, “A floundering fish or a panicking seal tells them it’s meal time, and they’ll charge in for an easy kill. If you get into difficulties and start flapping about, or jump in and out of the water with too much enthusiasm, you’ll mimic the sensations of injured prey and invite the opportunity for confusion and an accidental attack.”

But not “flapping about” or being enthusiastic in the water, is that always possible?

Then there’s “Consider Water Conditions.” “Xplore Our Planet” says: “Despite popular misconceptions, sharks have excellent eyesight. But, that eyesight doesn’t work in murky waters….Good visibility is essential for safe shark swimming, if only to let the sharks know you aren’t on the dinner menu.”

OK, but waters of the Atlantic notably close to shore aren’t so clear usually, not like the Caribbean, for example.

And then there’s “Dive in Groups.” The website says: “A lone target, by nature, is less of a threat and more vulnerable. By swimming in groups, you present what you might call a united front against aggression.”

OK, but not so easy if there is scant attendance on a beach.

A big question: why suddenly so many shark attacks off the New York Metropolitan Area. Explanations being given focus on climate change and warmer ocean temperatures luring sharks to its ocean waters—and that, I think, is indeed the main issue. Another explanation: an increase in bunker fish on which sharks like to feed. A further explanation: ocean waters in the region are cleaner and this encourages sharks to come.

The Long Island newspaper Newsday just ran an editorial titled, “Now our woes include sharks.” It began noting that to “the pressurized fire hose of catastrophic problems shot into our lives daily, let us add sharks.” But, it stressed, “There are an average of five shark deaths annually worldwide, and about 236,000 drowning deaths. And the shark-centric resources being thrown at Long Island beaches—including drones and patrols—can only serve the big question in the affirmative: Yes, there absolutely are sharks out there. But in many ways shark attacks are the danger best fixated on, because sharks likely won’t get us.”

OK, people, stop fixating.

I learned to swim mostly in the Long Island Sound off Wading River, Long Island. Shark-wise, it’s not the Atlantic. But still, a 10-foot 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 the New York Bight, south of Long Island.”

Although Jaws, the book by Peter Benchley, was based as happening in a fictional town on Long Island, the 1975 movie was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts (just across Buzzards Bay from Cuttyhunk, the Massachusetts island we were heading for when surprised by the fin of a shark in the sea and subsequently reached).

As actor Roy Scheider, playing Martin Brody, a police chief, declares—after a huge shark appears behind the boat he is on—“You're gonna need a bigger boat."

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.