New York’s Fire Island Shuts Down After Attacks—But Sharks Are All Over the East Coast

July 19, 2018, 1:42 PM UTC

Two beaches on New York’s Fire Island were closed Wednesday after a pair of shark attacks, the first in 70 years in the area. While both victims were discharged the same day and are expected to make full recoveries, it was still the realization of a cinematic nightmare for many in the popular tourist destination.

Sharks are scary creatures, but they’re much more prevalent than most tourists realize—especially along the Eastern Seaboard—and especially in tourism friendly months.

Attacks are rare, though. The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) investigated 155 shark bites in 2017. Eighty seven of those were declared unprovoked, and 30 were pinpointed as the fault of the human, for reasons ranging from grabbing at a shark to unhooking or removing it from a fishing net. Five of the unprovoked attacks were fatal.

As more and more people flock to the beaches, the number of incidents is likely to increase as well. Experts say the number of sharks is growing again after decreasing in the early 1990s.

And while there’s no way to track every shark in the ocean, marina research firm Ocearch offers real time tracking of tagged sharks, ranging from great whites to tiger sharks. Just two days ago, for instance, researchers saw a ping for a great white shark in the waters off of Long Island and south of Nantucket. (The shark, named “Hilton” was far away from any beach and heads north every year for mating season.)

Other tagged sharks that have been seen recently include “DeMott,” a tiger shark that calls the ocean around Savannah and Charleston, S.C. home and “Pico,” a Mako shark that traveled from the Corpus Christi area to the east side of Florida, where he’s now off coast near the Cocoa Beach, as of 5:36 a.m. ET Thursday.

Beachgoer safety techniques have been improved substantially in recent years, though, with the use of drone technology in some areas. But shark sightings and attacks still typically have brief impacts on beach tourism. Ultimately, though, the call of the ocean proves stronger for most people than their fear of a close encounter with Jaws.