Shark sightings, encounters off Long Island coast spark concerns among beachgoers

Experts say the sharks are attracted by nearby fish.

Max Haynes, an avid surfer and lifeguard in training, has frequently seen sharks off the coast of Long Island and they tend to stay their lane, the 16-year-old told ABC News’ “NIGHTLINE.”

But last week he was rushed to the hospital after one shark bit him on the foot while he was out paddling with a friend.

"I knew right away it was a shark bite," Haynes told "NIGHTLINE." "I just felt like bone crushing my foot."

"A shark bit Max Haynes on the foot while he was surfing off the coast of Long Island."
ABC News

The teen's encounter is one of many sightings that have taken place over the past month on New York shores and now officials, scientists and others are scrambling to figure out what's bringing the sharks closer to the shore and how to protect beachgoers from injuries.

Since June 30, there have been six shark encounters reported off New York waters. No one has been killed.

Shark sightings have also forced New York beaches to shut down, most recently Sunday when officials closed the Rockaways beaches.

Last week, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced heightened patrols for shark activity and pushed for drone and helicopter monitoring across Long Island beaches.

"Greg Metzger, the chief field coordinator for the South Fork Natural History Museum, Shark Research and Education Program, says there are more sharks on the water, but that shouldn't be a cause for concern."
ABC News

Colin Hickey, a Long Island lifeguard, has been using drones to comb the waters for sharks, and at the same time schools of fish that some experts say are the biggest factor behind the jump in shark sightings.

"That's where the sharks will go to get their snacks and their meals," Hickey told "NIGHTLINE."

Capt. Greg Metzger, the chief field coordinator for the South Fork Natural History Museum, Shark Research and Education Program, who has been studying sharks off Long Island for 15 years, told "NIGHTLINE" that the sharks that have been spotted recently are not targeting humans.

"They're not physically designed, nor are they interested in eating things larger than small fish," he told "NIGHTLINE."

Haynes said during his previous surfing outings he, too, has seen the sharks feeding on the fish, and they tend not to attack.

"I just respect them. I'll stay in my lane, and they’ll stay in theirs hopefully," he said.

Metzger added that while there are more sharks in the water, it may be a blessing in disguise, due to the positive effects of marine conservation efforts that have led to more fish in the ocean.

"[It's] getting to a point where people are noticing the difference," he said.

Hotter water brought on by climate change is also a factor for the rise in shark sightings, according to marine biologist Mike Heithaus.

The warmer water causes sharks to swim closer to the shore and has other ramifications to their ecosystem, he said.

"We know that changing water temperatures, changing age with ocean acidification can affect the whole food web," Heithaus told "NIGHTLINE."

"We also have the effects that occur in coastal areas, storms. We've got more rainfall that can cause flooding that can affect the nursery areas of sharks, too."

Beach-goers enjoy the surf at Smith Point County Park, a Long Island beach where a shark bit a lifeguard 10 days earlier, July 15, 2022, in Shirley, N.Y. Shark sightings were relatively rare in the region until recently.
John Minchillo/AP

In the meantime, Hickey said that beachgoers can take several steps to avoid any dangerous shark encounters.

"Do not go in the water at dusk or dawn. That is when they're feeding," he said. "Always swim near the lifeguards because we are so high up in there."

He also cautioned swimmers about wearing jewelry that could catch the attention of sharks and all kinds of fish.

"Because if a medium-sized fish sees a shiny object, they're going to assume that it is a smaller fish they can munch on and they're going to come at you even if it's a ring or a necklace or anything like that," Hickey said.

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