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Rockaway’s Own Shark Week

 Discovery Channel is really stepping up their promotion for Shark Week this year. Or maybe it’s jawst a coincidence. Sharks were on the mind of locals and visitors alike this week as beaches were closed due to sightings, and some were even caught on camera.

A local family picked this heatwave-packed week to teach their son, Timmy how to surf. He also may have gotten a lesson on how to swim extra fast. As the father, Chris, was giving lessons on Beach 121st on Tuesday, July 19, just before 1 p.m., he noticed a big animal launch itself out of the water maybe 30 yards to their right. ”I was teaching him how to surf and as I was pushing him out, I saw it jump up and make a huge splash. I grabbed him and got out of the water as quick as possible,” Chris said. “The lifeguards ran over and said, ‘Is that what I think it was?’ I said, “100%” While it’s become common to see whales and dolphins break the surface in local waters over recent years, this was no dolphin. Chris knew he had seen a six-foot shark take the leap.

While the shark breaking fin air was cause for mild alarm, Chris says it won’t keep his family out of the water. As Chris’ son Timmy told him, ‘We’re in the shark’s habitat.’ While it was clear that what they saw was a shark, as just minutes later, Chris says a pod of about 100 dolphins passed by for comparison, what they didn’t know at the time was that they had the proof to back it up. While going through footage the next day, Chris saw that his wife, Tricia, had gotten it all on camera. While Tricia was filming her husband and son on the waves, on the righthand side of the screen, she had captured the sporty shark showing off. “At the start of Shark Week, this is just awesome,” Chris said. The family shared the video with The Rockaway Times and it blew up on social media, reaching more than 75,000 people on Facebook and another 100,000 on Twitter on Wednesday.

It is not clear what kind of shark was caught on video, but amateur marine biologists on social media had a fun time guessing. Chris believes it may have been a bull shark. Several guessed a spinner shark, due to the way the shark in the video leaped and spun in the air, a behavior typical for this species which many said typically doesn’t harm humans. Others guessed mako. And some even suggested it was a young great white.

Whatever it was, it was enough to shut down the beach on Tuesday. Shark sightings like Chris’ and as many as two others on Beach 67th and Beach 102nd, caused NYC Parks and the NYPD to call everyone out of the water and shut the beach down for the rest of the 90-degree day.

While it’s not surprising for sharks to be found in the ocean, officials have been on high alert in the wake of several recent shark attacks off of neighboring beaches. Within the last two weeks, there have been five alleged shark attacks off of Long Island. The latest occurred on Wednesday, July 14 when a 49-year-old Arizona man was standing in waist-deep water when he was bitten on his wrist and buttocks just after 6 p.m. on Fire Island’s Seaview Beach. That attack came just 12 hours after a 41-year-old man was bitten in the calf while surfing off of Smith Point County Park in Shirley. It was where 10 days earlier, a 33-year-old lifeguard was bitten, just a few days after a man said his foot was bitten at Jones Beach on June 30. Another lifeguard was also bitten on the foot while training at Ocean Beach on Fire Island on July 7.

In response to the alarming increase in attacks, Governor Kathy Hochul ordered state agencies to step up monitoring of shark activity in local waters by use of drone, helicopter and boats, particularly along Long Island’s beaches.

“As New Yorkers and visitors alike head to our beautiful Long Island beaches to enjoy the summer, our top priority is their safety,” Governor Hochul said. “We are taking action to expand patrols for sharks and protect beachgoers from potentially dangerous situations. I encourage all New Yorkers to listen to local authorities and take precautions to help ensure safe and responsible beach trips this summer.”

Under city jurisdiction, after the beaches were closed on Tuesday, Rockaway’s waters were being monitored by NYPD helicopters for the rest of the afternoon until they announced the coast was clear at 6 p.m., just in time for lifeguards to leave for the day. But by Wednesday, July 20, the beach was back in action, ready for crowds on another scorching 90-degree day.

While Tuesday’s shark sightings sparked some excitement on the beach and on social media, Chris said there are much bigger worries out there. “The most dangerous thing we saw out there was the plastic in the water,” he said. “Please keep our beaches clean.”

Some experts suggest the recent increase in shark activity is because local waters have been cleaner in recent years. This has led to an increase in baitfish like bunker, a favorite of sharks and other marine wildlife like whales and dolphins, in local waters.

The increase in alleged shark attacks may be due to the higher temperatures. Higher temperatures bring bigger crowds, making the chance of a shark attack higher. Baitfish, like bunker,  have also been moving closer to shore. It is believed the sharks involved in the incidents in Long Island are sand tiger sharks, as there is a nursery in the area. It is suspected that the sharks are mistaking people’s feet for fish as they hunt, as sharks tend not to target people.  The odds of getting bit by a shark are a little less than one in four million, according to the International Shark Attack File.

To reduce the risk of shark attacks, avoid areas where schools of baitfish can be seen, areas where people are fishing, and swimming at dusk, dawn or nighttime. Always swim where lifeguards are present and always follow lifeguard instruction (especially when you see them make a shark fin signal over their heads and blow that whistle).

To learn more about sharks, Discovery Channel’s Shark Week begins Sunday, July 24.

 Photos from Tricia G’s video.

By Katie McFadden

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