Recent shark sightings and attacks have gotten everybody a little more nervous at the beach. NBC News reported two shark attacks in one day off Long Island on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. Shark attacks are very rare, and shark attacks in New York are even rarer. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History International Shark Attack Files, there have only been 12 attacks in New York between 1860 and 2021. Two of those shark attacks were at Rockaway Beach and two were in the East River. The most recent shark attacks (although unofficial) were at Fire Island. Let’s look at the 3 New York Beaches with the most shark attacks and the details of the 12 official shark attacks.
1) Fire Island
Fire Island is a 32-mile island off the coast of New York with a well-known black and white lighthouse. There are multiple beaches along the Atlantic and Bay sides. The two most recent shark attacks happened off Fire Island. The first one happened around 7:30 a.m. at Smith Point Beach. A paddle boarder was knocked off their board and attacked by a 4-foot tiger shark. They got a 4-inch laceration on their leg but were otherwise okay.
Later in the day, around 6:00 pm at Seaview Beach, a 49-year-old man from Arizona was wading in waist-deep water when the attack happened. He reported being bitten on the wrist and buttocks.
10 days earlier there was a report of an attack at Smith Point Beach on Fire Island that involved a lifeguard during training. The lifeguard received a bite to the chest but recovered.
2) Rockaway Beach, Queens
There have been a few shark attacks that have occurred at Rockaway Beach. Some of these are one that happened in 1909 and one in 1953. Both involved people who were actively fishing, one from a boat and another on shore. The first was a group of fishermen purposefully fishing for sharks. When one of the sharks that they caught started to thrash around in the boat it upset the boat and one man fell over where he was attacked. The other involved a 15-year-old boy who was fishing for striped bass but caught himself a shark instead. When he grabbed the shark by the tail it whipped around and bit him in the leg. He recovered after the incident. Here are the details from those incidents:
- Rockaway Beach, Queens
Albert Tyler, male, July 24, 1909, fell overboard while fishing for sharks, Rockaway Beach in The Broad Channel three dentists were on their weekly fishing trip, fell overboard and got bit in the leg.
- Rockaway Beach, Queens
Alan Stevenson Jr., male, 15-year-old, September 3, 1953, Rockaway Beach, Queens, he was surf fishing for striped bass, he snagged a shark instead, it was an 80lb sand shark, when he tried to grab it by the tail it whipped around and bit him in the leg.
3) East River, between Manhattan and Brooklyn
The two shark attacks in the East River are the extremes of shark attacks. One was just a brush with a shark that resulted in no injuries and the other one was most likely fatal. The first happened to a boy named Cole (no last name provided in the Daily Kennebec Journal). He was out boating when he jumped in for a bit and was attacked by an 8-foot shark. His friend threw a rock at the shark distracting it long enough to haul his friend into shore. He got him to the police, but the article says, “The back and sides of the boy are in an awful condition and he cannot possibly live.”
The second attack happened in 1894 to Catherine Beach, the only female on our list. She was out swimming at Woolsey’s Point in the East River when she saw a shark and then felt it brush past her. The shark made contact but did not injure her. Robert Russel takes credit for saving her by helping her into his rowboat that day. The five-foot-long shark was “killed and put on display at Ninety-second Street and the East River in Manhattan.”
Here are the details from those incidents:
- East River, between Manhattan and Brooklyn
Cole, male, age unknown, August 9, 1878, swimming, in the East River, swimming, bitten on the back and sides, not confirmed but likely fatal
- East River, between Manhattan and Brooklyn
Catherine Beach, female, August 21, 1894, swimming, at Woolsey’s Point in the East River, Long Island City, was struck by the shark, a shovel-nose shark but was not injured
Other New York Beaches with Shark Attacks
Charlotte Beach, Brooklyn
Jerry Duke, August 1, 1860, swimming, severed toe, Brooklyn, New York just north of the Williamsburg Bridge, north Eleventh Street.
Pier 76 Hudson River Park, Manhattan
Henry Brice, Male, 13 years old, August 12, 1864, swimming, left thigh severely bitten, Manhattan, in the Hudson River (North River back then) at 37th Street, just south of the Lincoln Tunnel.
Town Beach, Southold
Peter Johnson, 17 years old, September 2, 1865, swimming, multiple lacerations, off of Southold in the New York Sound.
Coney Island Beach, Coney Island
Mr. Keatly, age unknown, July 15, 1874, swimming, lacerations to his groin area, off of Coney Island Beach near what used to be the Washington Baths.
Gowanus Bay, Brooklyn (east of Prospect Park)
George Gates, male, 14 years old, on August 8, 1878, swimming, the first fatal shark attack in New York recorded, he had a “pound of flesh torn off his hip” he was stitched up but developed a high fever and died the next day.
Wolfe’s Pond Beach (current day), Prince’s Bay, Staten Island
Charles E. Boone, male, age 22-year-old, August 22, 1898, swimming in Prince’s Bay, Staten Island off the dock at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin at Mount Loretto, bitten on the inside of his leg from the knee to the thigh, the local news reported: “a school of sharks had been seen in the bay.”
Plumb Beach (Gateway National Recreation Area) Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn
Thomas Richards, male, July 13, 1916, swimming, in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, swimming with friends. One friend alerted him to a shark then he felt something and his ankle got attacked leaving a bruise.
|Rank||Beach||Number of Shark Attacks|
|2||Rockaway Beach, Queens||3|
|3||East River, between Manhattan and Brooklyn||2|
When was the Last Shark Attack in NYC?
While NYC might not seem like the place where shark attacks can occur, there are several factors that have led to this increase. The water quality has been improving which has, in turn, led to a more abundant fish population, which the sharks feed on. Attacks have been on the rise and reports of at least 13 people being bitten off of Long Island were reported just in the past year alone, although none were reported as serious. Adding to this was an additional attack that occurred at Rockaway Beach on August 7th, 2023.
Tatyana Koltunyuk, a 65-year-old woman, was swimming just before dusk, at around 6 p.m., when she sustained a serious injury to her left thigh. Considered to be one of the most severe attacks in decades, it is believed that she was bitten by a juvenile great white shark.
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