Increased Shark Encounters Prompt Enhanced Drone Surveillance along New York’s Coast

by Michael Nguyen
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shark encounters

Off the shores of Long Island, drones are deployed to monitor the ocean waters, ensuring the safety of beachgoers who have become more vigilant due to a recent surge in shark encounters.

In the past week, five individuals have reported shark bites at some of New York’s renowned beaches, leading to heightened surveillance measures in the area.

After a 10-foot (3-meter) shark sighting on Thursday, authorities advised people to refrain from entering the water at Robert Moses State Park. This beach, located on Long Island, had already delayed its reopening on July 4th due to the sighting of a group of 50 sand sharks spotted by a drone.

“We are now more alert than ever,” emphasized George Gorman, Long Island’s state park director. “We have drones monitoring the skies and lifeguards on WaveRunners watching over the waters.”

While shark encounters were once infrequent, there has been a recent increase in reports of shark bites. Last year, eight people were bitten by sharks while swimming in the shallow waters off Long Island’s beaches.

“We’ve already had five bites this year,” Gorman stated, expressing concern over the rise in shark sightings and encounters.

Cary Epstein, a lifeguard supervisor who operates drones at Jones Beach, explained how these battery-powered aircraft conduct three daily sweeps: before the beach opens, midday, and towards the end of the day.

Epstein demonstrated how drones provide an additional perspective that lifeguards on the beach cannot attain. From his control-equipped box, he piloted the drone, which hovered over the sand before zooming out over the water, becoming a tiny dot on the horizon.

“While lifeguard stations offer an elevated view, they lack a direct downward line of sight,” Epstein explained. “When sharks are preying on fish, it becomes unmistakably clear. We can see it without a doubt.”

However, Epstein cautioned, “Just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

Only two months ago, Governor Kathy Hochul announced the addition of ten drones to the state’s squadron, bringing the total to 18. This increase in surveillance aims to monitor shark activity near the beaches along New York’s South Shore and ensure the safety of beachgoers.

Some argue that the rise in shark sightings indicates a healthier ecosystem. Cleaner waters foster the abundance of small fish that sharks feed on. With more small fish swimming closer to shore, sharks are more likely to be present.

Before 2022, New York had only recorded a dozen unprovoked shark bites. Over the past decade, the International Shark Attack File, which tracks global shark attacks, documented only four incidents of people being bitten by sharks in the region.

While Florida usually leads the nation in shark bites, with 16 reported last year, New York witnessed twice as many incidents, making it the runner-up.

Lifeguard Carl Nowicki, stationed at Jones Beach State Park, remained vigilant, scanning the waters for any activity that might attract sharks, such as large schools of bait fish.

“We won’t alert beachgoers until everyone is out of the water if a drone spots a shark,” Nowicki explained. “We don’t want them to panic. Once everyone is safely on the sand, we will provide transparent updates. We aim to prevent beachgoer panic.”

Beach visitor Mike Berchoff, aware of the increased drone presence, swims more cautiously. He prefers to stay in waist-deep water to minimize the risk of a shark encounter.

“I’ve noticed more drones lately, which gives me some reassurance that we will be alerted if there is any danger,” Berchoff stated.

The first reported encounter this summer occurred when a 15-year-old girl felt a bite on her leg while swimming. At another beach shortly afterward, a teenager had to return to shore after feeling something nibbling on his toes.

On the Fourth of July, two men reported possible shark bites in separate incidents 60 miles (97 kilometers) apart.

It is important to note that these incidents differ from the fictional horror depicted in the movie “Jaws,” which terrorized the fictional town of Amity Island. The recent encounters are unlikely to involve the fearsome great white sharks that typically inhabit deeper waters and rarely venture close to shore.

Around a dozen shark species, none considered particularly aggressive, can be found off the coast of Long Island. Sand sharks, the most common in the area, can grow up to nearly 15 feet (4.6 meters) in length. While their sharp, jagged teeth may cause alarm, these large fish are generally docile and tend to avoid human contact. A nursery for juvenile sharks is known to exist off Fire Island.

Shark biologists assert that sand sharks are unlikely to attack humans unless provoked. Any interaction with swimmers is typically unintentional.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about shark encounters

What prompted the increased drone surveillance along New York’s coast?

The recent rise in shark encounters, with five reported shark bites in a span of two days, prompted the authorities to enhance surveillance measures using drones.

How are drones being used to monitor the waters?

Drones are deployed to sweep over the ocean, providing an aerial vantage point to patrol for any potential danger lurking below the surface. They offer a perspective that lifeguards on the beach cannot achieve, ensuring more comprehensive surveillance.

Are the sharks being encountered in New York’s waters dangerous?

The sharks encountered in New York’s waters, such as sand sharks, are not considered particularly aggressive or dangerous. While their sharp teeth may cause alarm, these large fish are typically docile and tend to avoid human contact.

How effective are the drones in spotting sharks?

Drones provide an additional tool to identify shark activity that may not be visible from lifeguard stations or stands. They enable lifeguards and authorities to monitor the waters more closely, although it’s important to note that the absence of a sighting does not guarantee the absence of sharks.

Are shark encounters increasing in New York?

Yes, there has been a recent increase in reports of shark encounters and bites off the coast of New York. Last year, there were eight reported shark bites, and this year has already seen five reported incidents. This rise in encounters has prompted heightened vigilance and surveillance efforts.

What is the purpose of the increased surveillance?

The increased surveillance, including the use of drones, aims to enhance beach safety and alert beachgoers of any potential danger. By monitoring shark activity, authorities can take proactive measures to minimize the risk and ensure the well-being of beach visitors.

Are there any risks associated with swimming in New York’s waters?

While shark encounters do occur, the overall risk of being bitten by a shark in New York’s waters remains relatively low. It’s important for beachgoers to exercise caution, be aware of any advisories or warnings, and follow the guidance provided by lifeguards and authorities to ensure their safety.

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