Two New York beaches close after shark bites lifeguard

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Bryan R Smith/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Bryan R Smith/AFP/Getty Images

Just when it was warm enough to go back in the water, Fourth of July revelers on a popular beach on New York’s Long Island were ordered out again after a shark bit a lifeguard.

Zach Gallo was reportedly playing a victim in a water training exercise Sunday when a 4- to 5-ft-long shark bit him in his chest and right hand off Smith Point Beach, 70 miles east of Manhattan.

Gallo was able to walk out of the water, bandaged and taken to a local hospital, said the Suffolk county government’s top official, Steve Bellone.

“He’s in very good spirits at Southside hospital … getting some stitches,” Bellone told Newsday of Gallo.

Officials subsequently closed Smith Point – along with another beach to the east – to swimmers “due to dangerous marine activity”, calling to mind the very decision that public officials didn’t make in the movie Jaws.

Gallo’s attack was the second shark-related case in three days on the Atlantic side of Long Island that interrupted beach activities. A 37-year-old swimmer off nearby Jones Beach was in the water Thursday when he “sustained a laceration to his right foot” that officials reportedly described as a possible shark bite.

Authorities said they would step up beach patrols, including a newly formed “shark patrol”, after a fisherman spotted a 10ft Mako shark 10 miles away.

Nassau county officials have said shark attack off Long Island “are extremely rare” but have been increasing in frequency. Experts believe activity restrictions stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic may have limited the number of shark attacks in recent years, but they are increasing as people return to the beaches.

Worldwide last year, 73 shark attacks were recorded as unprovoked, according to an ABC News report.

Marine biologists also believe the waters off Long Island could be a nursery for immature Great Whites given the plentiful supply of bait fish. Some reports suggest warming waters are attracting hammerheads and bull sharks as well.

The uptick in shark sightings has led to an increase in patrols using drones, jetskis, boats and helicopters.

A scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium, Hans Walters, told the New York Times that concern over sharks was “very overblown”.

Sharks, he added, are not interested in swimmers. “If anyone’s been in the ocean, they’ve already swum with sharks,” he said. “They just don’t know it.”

But that hasn’t stopped shark attacks from making the papers. On Friday, authorities in Florida reported that a teenage girl was facing the loss of one of her legs after a shark bit her while she was swimming on Thursday.

Addison Bethea was collecting scallops in waters 5ft deep off Keaton Beach, about 75 miles south-east of Tallahassee, the state’s capital. A 9ft-long shark suddenly began biting her, including on her right thigh.

“She tried poking it in the eyes and punching it but it would not turn loose” until her brother fought the animal off, Bethea’s father wrote of his daughter’s ordeal.

Last summer, fashion executive Julie Dimperio Holowach was swimming off the coast of Maine near a seal colony and wearing a black neoprene suit when she was propelled out of the water by a great white. Holowach was killed.

A New England shark expert, James Sulikowski, told the Portland Press Herald it was possible a shark mistook the victim for food in what could be the “first documented [shark-related] fatality ever in Maine”.

According to the International Shark Attack File, which is curated by the Florida Museum, there had been only one previous report of an unprovoked attack in Maine waters.

“In this area of Maine and depending on how close to shore the event occurred,” Sulikowski said, “my guess is it was a white shark. We can easily be mistaken for a seal … as a shark’s dinner.”