SMITH POINT BEACH, N.Y. (PIX11) — A shark sighting closed down a Long Island beach on Thursday, bringing to six the number of shark encounters that have shut down beaches on the island so far this month.
That number included four shark bites that happened over a ten-day period. The first of those bite victims returned to work at Smith Point on Thursday, to a job that might see him helping other victims of shark bites or other emergencies in the days and months ahead: he’s a lifeguard.
Zach Gallo, 33, was bitten on his chest and right hand during a life-saving exercise on July 3. On Thursday, he was introduced at a news conference for his return to work.
“This is just a rare incident,” Gallo said about his shark encounter, adding that going forward, “I can share a rare bond with people, and share gratitude that it wasn’t as bad as it is for other people” who’ve suffered from more severe bites.
“I was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.
Minutes later, he was back on the beach, training with his fellow lifeguards, who have won the distinction of Nation’s Best Lifeguards nine times in national competitions.
His bite was the first this month but was followed by bites in Ocean Beach, on Fire Island, as well as another bite at Smith Point Beach on Wednesday of this week, in the morning. Then, on Wednesday evening, another person was bitten by a shark at Seaview Beach on Fire Island.
On Thursday afternoon, a shark was spotted off Tobay Beach in Nassau County, just east of Jones Beach. Tobay Beach was shut down by beach authorities for the rest of the day.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who convened the news conference at which Gallo was introduced, said that he and other county leaders are trying to come up with new protocols for beach closures under what he called a new normal — with sharks being closer to local beaches, as their habitat has improved and the baitfish on which they feed have become more plentiful.
“We are speaking to our own experts internally and at Stony Brook [University],” Bellone said. He explained that the central question for them is, “Is this something that we’re going to be seeing over the long term?”