Long Island police and Maine Marine Patrol have deployed helicopters and boats to search for sharks following several sightings of the underwater predator and the fatal shark attack of a woman in Maine.
Beaches have been shut down in Long Island, and in Maine swimmers are warned to not venture beyond waist-deep water following sightings of sharks.
Marine experts believe the spike in shark sightings may be because of growing seal populations and the fact that both species are protected by law.
Officials say that while shark attacks are rare, it is normal for great white sharks to be sighted in New England as the predators move north in search of seal colonies.
There have been 13 shark attacks in 2020 alone, two of them fatal. The first fatality was in California and the second in Maine on Monday, marking the first deadly shark attack in the state’s history.
There have been several shark sightings on Long Island including in the area’s two most popular beaches.
Those sightings were believed to be of bull sharks, which are known to like warm, shallow water and are extremely aggressive and scavenge for food, marine experts say.
Nassau County has had police helicopter and boat patrols surveying for the predators lurking under the water since Monday.
On Wednesday Nassau County Executive Laura Curran increased the number of patrols after two days of shark sightings on the South Shore, which led to the closure of Nickerson Beach, Jones Beach State Park and Long Beach.
On Monday lifeguards in Hempstead snapped a photo of a dead skate fish that washed ashore with two massive shark bite marks on its fins. Town officials believe a bull shark is behind the bite marks following a pair of sightings on Monday.
Yet another a shark sighting was reported Wednesday off the coast on Nickerson Beach which prompted the closure of swimming access at all ocean beaches in Nassau Counter, Town of Hempstead and Long Beach, according to the Long Island Press.
Curran warned Long Island citizens to stay close to the shore, for beachgoers to swim in groups and avoid wearing shiny jewelry which sharks can mistake for the scales of a fish and to avoid swimming when bleeding.
New York has had at least 20 shark sightings in the past 12 months.
Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said there have been just 12 confirmed shark bites in New York waters since 1837. The most recent shark bite occurred on Fire Island in 2018 after a 70-year stretch of no shark attacks in local waters.
Paul Sieswerda, executive director of the marine research organization Gotham Whale, which has monitored sharks off the South Shore over the summer, has received reports of several different species of sharks in the area so far.
‘Some of the sharks have been hammerheads, spinner sharks, thresher sharks and animals that tend to be at the surface,’ Sieswerda said.
‘There are a number of other sharks out there that stay below that have been there forever like sand tiger sharks, spiny dogfish, smooth dogfish and those are just natural sharks that pose no threat to humans,’ he added.
Still, officials say shark attacks are incredibly rare and the chances are one in 12million.
Similar patrols are unfolding in Maine where Julie Dimperio Holowach, the former president of handbag designer Kipling USA, died in a shark attack on Monday.
On Wednesday the Maine Marine Patrol continued to patrol for sharks in southern Maine looking to confirm the presence, location, and species of sharks in the area.
State officials implemented restrictions on nearby Popham Beach State Park and Reid State Park on Tuesday.
On Monday afternoon Holowach, 63, was swimming in a wetsuit with her daughter near Bailey Island in Harpswell when she disappeared beneath the surface of the water before being ‘thrown into the air’.
Holowach was rescued by two nearby kayakers and immediately pronounced dead by paramedics upon arrival to shore.
Holowach’s daughter, meanwhile, was uninjured. She was able to swim back to shore unassisted, where she collapsed on her hands and knees in the sand screaming for help.
First responders recovered tooth fragment in the incident and confirmed a great white was responsible, Patrick Keliher of the Maine Department of Marine Resources said.
Experts suspect that the shark that killed Holowach could have mistaken her for a seal as she was wearing a wetsuit.
Since the attack there have been sightings of dead seals washing up on shore with shark bite marks.
On Tuesday afternoon around 3pm a family found a dead 5ft seal badly bitten by what experts say is a shark. The seal was found past Bethel Point Town Landing in Cundys Harbor suffering a bite 18 inches wide.
‘It looks like there’s some kind of totally psycho shark out there,’ beachgoer Sari Schorr said to WGME.
Other locals in the area say they’ve also seen seals washed up on shore with similar bite parks this week.
One was found less than 24 hours after the Maine shark attack in the town next over.
The Maine attack may be linked to rebounding populations of great white sharks and its prey seals.
Great white shark numbers have risen after the largest predator shark species was nearly depleted by overfishing, but they have since been protected from fishing under US regulation since 1997.
Seals have also been protected under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.
‘I like to characterize both populations as rebounding from high levels of exploitation,’ Gregory Skomal, a senior fisheries scientist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries said to Reuters.
The population of great whites is estimated to have returned to between 60 and 70 percent of what it should be in the US northeast.
‘The theory of the case is these sharks are returning naturally to a habitat that is coming back into balance,’ John King of the Atlantic White Shark Conservatory said.
Following the Maine attack officials restricted swimmers to waist-deep water at 10 state parks until further notice as sharks typically avoid shallow water.
Lifeguards were on duty and extra staff were assigned to search for sharks in Maine.
Great whites don’t typically go after humans and prefer prey of seals and smaller shark species.
‘They’re really big, formidable creatures, but they are predators that are mostly interested in feeding on their natural prey,’ Chris Fallows, a South African shark expert and photographer said.