With shark bites increasing, what to know if you encounter one while swimming

Chanteé Lans Image
Saturday, July 16, 2022
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An expert tells Eyewitness News what you need to know if you encounter a shark while swimming. Chatee Lans has more

LONG ISLAND (WABC) -- Tobay Beach reopened to swimmers after a shark sighting shut it down on Thursday, and officials across Long Island say patrols will be on the water and in the skies with helicopters and drones all weekend as shark encounters increase in frequency.

The scare was the latest in Long island waters over the past two weeks, with five people bitten by sharks over that time period.

On Sunday, a few miles away at Robert Moses State Park, beachgoers recorded videos on their cell phones of a shark near the shore.

"I think it's like pretty crazy with like everything that's happening," beachgoer Luke Benanti said.

RELATED | Shark Alley? More sightings off Long Island beaches as swimmers urged to use caution

But what should you do if you encounter a shark while swimming? Knowing how to respond could mean the difference between life and death.

Teddy Tilkin, an expert with the Long Island Aquarium, tells Eyewitness News there are several important factors to surviving a shark encounter.

"Stay as calm as possible and try to get away from the shark," Tilkin said.

He said to swim away with as little splashing as possible, so that the shark won't sense that you are injured or distressed.

"If they really were to bite and wanted to eat us, we would be losing limbs and have a lot more external damages to us from a lot of the attacks," he said. "Because sharks are extremely powerful animals."

Two lifeguards, two surfers, and a swimmer have been bitten in the past 15 days.

Lifeguard Zach Gallo was bit in his hand and chest at Smith Point Beach and said he repeatedly punched the shark to defend himself.

"In those situations, you have to do whatever you possibly can to get away and to save yourself," Tilkin said.

Tilkin says the shark was about 5 feet long and was most likely a young shark.

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino says bait fish, like schools of bunker, are bringing the sharks in due to cleaner water.

"New York City invested over a billion dollars in upgrades in their sewage treatment," Saladino said. "Nassau County has invested over $800 million in their upgrades, Suffolk with many upgrades. So our water is much cleaner."

Tilkin says the return of people to the water after two years of staying away during the pandemic helps explain the surge in shark bites.

The water is also warmer due to a milder winter.

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