08/08/19 6:00am
08/08/2019 6:00 AM

In recent weeks, quite a few sharks have made headlines around Long Island. First there was drone footage of sharks corralling and then feasting on a school of Atlantic menhaden (aka bunker) in Southampton. Later, a 10-foot basking shark was spotted swimming deep inside Shinnecock Bay. And just last month, some beachgoers recorded video footage of a large shark swimming in the shallows in Riverhead and Mattituck. Is this a publicity stunt by the producers of “Shark Week” or is something much more significant happening here?  (more…)

06/22/13 10:00am
06/22/2013 10:00 AM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Aquarist Rachael Vietheer gets ready to feed sand tiger sharks at Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead.

As the seven-foot-long sand tiger shark glides through the water, it brushes against the glass of Long Island Aquarium’s huge 120,000-gallon tank. For most visitors, that encounter is close enough.

But some would like to get closer, much closer, and the aquarium is only too happy to oblige.

The aquarium’s shark diving program — open to any and all brave enough to enter a steel cage and spend half an hour with a trained diver as sharks circle around — is now in its fifth year.

The aquarium is also set to open a new “shark keeper” program on July 1, allowing guests to feed the sand tiger sharks, tour the facilities and bring home a shark’s tooth.

The sharks are at the top rung of the food chain in the “Lost City of Atlantis” exhibit, the aquarium’s largest.

The tank is home to two species of shark; five jagged-toothed sand tiger sharks caught off Jones Beach Inlet in 1999 and the more docile nurse sharks that prefer to rest on the bottom of the tank, said aquarist Maggie Seiler.

The diving program follows no set schedule. When someone calls and asks to swim with the sharks, the aquarium sets up a time.

Divers take a quick safety class in the morning, then return to the tank later in the day to don a special diving mask and a wet suit to keep them warm, Ms. Seiler said.

The mask is specially designed for use by amateurs and isn’t prone to problems that can befall standard scuba masks, such as water leaking inside. The masks also feature communication systems that allow divers to speak with the trainers and fellow divers.

“These things are great,” Ms. Seiler said, holding the black plastic mask in her hand.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | One of the five sand tiger sharks at the exhibit in Riverhead. The sharks were all caught off the coast of Jones Beach in 1999.

Up to three guests can fit inside the cage, along with the aquarium’s professional diver. After the cage is lowered to the bottom of the tank, guests spend 30 minutes learning about the sharks that swim by.

Ms. Seiler said the sharks occasionally swim past the cage to see what’s inside.

The sand tiger sharks may appear especially frightening, but they wouldn’t want to make a meal out of a visitor, Ms. Seiler said. They’re simply too well fed.

“They get fed two, maybe three times a week,” she said. “During the week they’ll get five to seven pounds of food per shark. That’s very well fed for a shark. In the wild, naturally, these guys would be lucky to see food once a week.”

That’s why the sharks rarely attack the tank’s other fish.

And despite what “Jaws” might show, sharks don’t purposely feed on humans in the wild, she said.

Shark attacks are almost always the result of a shark mistaking a human for easy smaller prey, like an injured seal, she said.

“Let’s face it,” she said. “In the water, we’re not really graceful.”

Once a shark realizes its victim is not a seal, it generally swims away, she said, adding that shark attacks are actually quite rare.

“Getting in the car every day is more dangerous than going and taking a swim at the beach,” Ms. Seiler said. “There are so many more things you should be cautious and fearful about than getting bitten by a shark.”

The aquarium’s new program will also let visitors help feed the creatures. The sharks find the food, usually a dead fish, on prongs at the end of a PVC pole. An aquarist dangles the fish in front of the shark’s mouth, often tracking its movement until the shark takes a bite.

Ms. Seiler said people taking part in the dives often are afraid of the sharks at first but learn to conquer that fear.

That, she said, is the most rewarding part of her job.

“That’s always a lot of fun for me, being that person who exposed them to something new,” she said. “At the end of the dive they love it. You get to get close and have that experience, while staying safe.”

For more information on the shark diving and feeding programs, contact the Long Island Aquarium at 631-208-9200, ext. 426.

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07/29/11 5:24pm
07/29/2011 5:24 PM

SUFFOLK TIMES PHOTO | Shark warning sign posted in East Marion earlier this week.

An eight-foot shark caught in a fisherman’s nets and then released in Orient Harbor earlier this week has become the talk of the town with many as-yet unanswered questions floating about, chief among them is it a man-eater or not?

On July 25 the shark was discovered within the maze of a pound trap, which uses stationary nets affixed to posts to funnel fish such as bluefish and porgies into a central holding area. The shark may have been after the fish, or a gray seal spotted nearby.

When reporting his catch and release to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and other authorities, the fisherman identified the fish as a bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), one of the three most dangerous in the world, along with great whites and tiger sharks.

Bull sharks are no strangers to shallow coastal waters. But there’s another species found in local waters similar in appearance and size, but is no threat to humans.

And since the animal was set free, there’s no way of positively identifying it.

Hearing that report of a bull shark, George Peter, president of the Gardiners Bay Property Owners Association, which has a community beach in East Marion, put up signs throughout the area the following day warning residents. particularly parents of small children, to be cautious.

Mr. Peter, who spoke with the fisherman, said the size of the fish indicated it was “a serious adult.”

Southold Police chief Martin Flatley said there have been no sightings of the shark since. As a precaution, the police notified the Orient Beach State Park, town lifeguards, the Coast Guard and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“From what I’m told, it’s not uncommon for there to be sharks in the water here from time to time,” the chief said. He added that he knows of no report ever filed of a shark attack in Southold waters.

Since he did not see the shark, Emerson Hasbrouck, director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension marine program, couldn’t identify it. But he did say there’s a chance the fish could be a sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus.) That species and bull sharks both have broad, flat heads and are both found in in-shore waters along the East Coast. The more benign of the two, sandbar sharks eat bunker, skates, squid and crustaceans.

“It’s not unusual for pound net fishermen to catch sharks since there’s a concentration of fish there,” said Mr. Hasbrouck.

He added that sandbar sharks are the second most common large shark caught on the East Coast.