Kramer proposes a warning system akin to the recently replaced terror-alert system, with warnings ranked in severity from 1 (sharks nearby) to 5 (everybody out of the water). He suggests having the county offices of emergency management use text, social media networks or news media to alert the public—after experts have vetted the credibility of each shark tip fed by a public shark alert hotline.
While Thompson, the shark attack survivor, is an obvious supporter, not everyone thinks it is a good idea, including some people who spend a great deal of time staring at the sea.
“It would be a reasonable one if there was a change in the frequency of sightings,” says Tom Daly, a lifeguard for the City of Long Beach for more than 50 years. He says shark sightings are already passed between lifeguard posts along ocean beaches.
“At this time I see no need for a warning system,” he adds. It has been years since he’s seen a need to order everyone out of the surf.
Among Kramer’s cause for concern are two recent unconfirmed reports of a bull shark—among the top three man-eaters, third behind tigers and great whites, by far the deadliest—being spotted this summer in the Western Bays of Nassau County. Someone going for a dip off the dock in the bay at the wrong time could be wading into a meat grinder, Kramer warns.
Bull sharks are known to wander into shallow brackish water. Sometimes mistakenly so do less-aggressive sandbar sharks and dusky sharks commonly found off LI in summer, as well as two smaller shark species, spiny and smooth dogfish. Tigers and hammerheads are said to migrate past the island in July and August.
Local fishermen have called 2011 a banner year for threshers, with the biggest reportedly being a 530-lb. whiptale caught in 40-feet of water off the Rockaways earlier this season. They, makos and blue sharks are traditionally target of shark fishing tournaments off the East End ever since Frank Mundus, inspiration for Captain Quint in Jaws, docked in Montauk in the ’60s.
But every fin does not mean great white. Ocean sunfish are often mistaken for sharks, experts say, due to their large dorsal fin. A school of skate, a type of sting ray, were misidentified, prompting Lido beach closures in August 2006.
Mistaken identities or not, an LI shark attack is not an impossibility.
“There’s an outside chance someone could get bit by one,” says Robert Fisher, an independent contractor with Quantech, a research firm, who gathers data from LI fishermen for the National Marine Fisheries Service to gauge health of species.
Despite his intimate familiarity with local shark visits, he trusts the lifeguards have it under control. Noting that the number of local shark sightings has been stagnant for decades, he is not in favor of the alert system. He says the monsters to be worried about are mostly in deeper waters.
“Dominant numbers of sharks that are inshore are just feeding on whatever fish are out there and man isn’t really on the menu,” Fisher says.