POINT LOOKOUT, N.Y. (PIX11) — The shark patrol is now on duty in the most populous municipality on Long Island. The move, announced on Saturday, was not only in response to a generally higher number of shark encounters off the Long Island coast in recent years, but was also in reaction to two shark bites and one shark sighting in Long Island ocean waters within the last week alone.
The Town of Hempstead has dozens of lifeguards; a personal watercraft, or JetSki; a scouting drone; multiple surfboard and paddle board operators; rowboats, and other gear and personnel as part of the shark patrol, which will be in operation throughout the summer season.
“Over the last two years,” said Don Clavin, the Hempstead Town supervisor, “we’ve actually seen more attacks or more sightings of sharks in this region than they probably have over the last decade.”
As supervisor, Clavin is responsible for operations in an area made up of 22 different villages, with a population of more than 750,000. Many of those people will choose to go to the six beaches in the town this summer.
Clavin said that they’re already reacting to the season’s shark encounters, even though the season isn’t even at its midpoint.
“They’re nervous,” he said on Saturday. “You’re hearing a lot of the stories, you’re reading a lot of it.”
Al Aponte is a local resident who was headed into the surf at Point Lookout on Saturday. He made it very clear that he was only wading in to his ankles.
“I’m a coward!” he joked, but he added, seriously, “I’m not scared of sharks, but you’ve got to respect them, especially this year.”
The three shark encounters in the last week were all either off the shore of Fire Island, which is more than 15 miles east of Hempstead, or farther east. One was a shark sighting near Davis Park, and in two separate incidents, lifeguards got bitten by sharks in the waters off Smith Point and off Ocean Beach.
Hempstead’s shoreline has not seen any sharks so far this season. Still, said its beach managers, they aren’t taking any chances, since they’ve seen bull sharks come fairly close to the shoreline in recent summers.
Beachgoers at Point Lookout said that they appreciate the shark patrol coverage, since it gives them a sense of security.
“It’s not going to prevent me from going into the water,” said Maylin Delleo, about the potential for shark sightings offshore. “You’ve just got to be careful. That’s it.”
Jason Roth, a 10-year-old who’d come to the beach with his family and friends, said that he had no concerns about being in the surf, as he’d been most of the day.
“Because there are very good lifeguards here,” he said.
Agreeing with his assessment was the lifeguards’ boss, Justine Anderson, the aquatics director for the Town of Hempstead. She said that the key to staying safe from sharks is to pay attention to directions from the people whose job it is to pay attention to the sharks.
“If the lifeguard tells you not to go into the water,” Anderson said, “don’t go in the water.”