How We Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Sharks

We're not marine biologists but we do have some intel to take the vibes down from “Jaws is real!!” to “what’s my plan for the beach this weekend?”

How We Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Sharks
Photo by Marcelo Cidrack on Unsplash.

By The Groove

It gives us no pleasure to announce that after a mostly quiet summer, the sharks are very much back on city shores.

Or at minimum, one shark, which bit the leg of a 65-year-old woman swimming near Beach 59th Street in the Rockaways on Monday afternoon. (In spite of horrifying reports in the Post that the victim "lost 20 pounds of flesh” in the attack, she’s reportedly now in serious but stable condition.)

Rockaway Beach was closed Tuesday, but a Parks Department spokesperson also noted that “Though this was a frightening event, we want to remind New Yorkers that shark bites in Rockaway are extremely rare.” To wit: the incident was reportedly the first confirmed shark attack in New York City since 1958.

We're not marine biologists but we do have some intel to take the vibes down from “Jaws is real!!” to “what’s my plan for the beach this weekend?”

You are (probably) never going to get bit

Shark bites like the one that happened this week are both “extremely unusual” and not “the start of something that we can anticipate more of,” Hans Walters, a field scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium told the Times. Even the shark patrols rarely see that many sharks.

Intriguingly, Walters also pointed out that unprovoked shark attacks are less often the result of active predation and more likely “people getting caught in the crossfire of a feeding shark that’s eating fish and you just happened to blunder into the situation.”

And while we’re probably going to have to get a lot more used to sharing our oceans with the sharks, on the bright side, this means conservation efforts are actually working! Our waters are no longer uninhabitable to exciting sea creatures!

On a more practical note, sharks, according to some experts, tend to only attack humans when they mistake us for prey, and are in fact “more or less indifferent” to people. Relatable, no?

Does “no swimming” really mean “no swimming”?

Shark sightings happen, and occasionally that means the lifeguards will get everyone out of the water for a few hours until the water is clear. That means you can’t go swimming, but it doesn’t mean you totally can't cool off in the water. You can still wade in a little and splash around, so long as you don’t get too deep. Remember it’s a shark, not toxic waste, so you can still touch the ocean safely. If you do get kicked off the beach, you can always look for closed-beach bar specials.

Rockaway Beach locals laugh about the sharks

People obviously can get bit, but Rockaway peninsula residents like to point out that yes there are sharks, but most of the sharks are lil babies. That’s probably why this post is the by far the most-liked post from meme account Rockaway Dad.

Elsewhere, on Tuesday’s edition of the FAQ NYC podcast, The City reporter (and noted Rockaway local) Katie Honan told it to us straight: “I would go in the ocean today if I didn’t have to go to work.”

How to avoid a (rare!) shark attack

Watch out in areas near sandbars or steep drop offs on the ocean floor. Sharks love hanging out there.

Be careful during dawn or dusk, those are shark meal times.

Don’t hang out near fishing ships; sharks may be around to slurp up the bait.

Wearing shiny jewelry might look like fish scales to a shark.

Sharks see contrast well so avoid things like bright colored or contrasting clothing, or uneven tanning (!).

Don’t be splashing around, you’ll look like a tasty fish.

If you see a shark just passing by, do not punch it. It’s fair play to the shark at that point.

(Thanks to the Florida Museum of Natural History for these tips)

What if you’re about to get ate?

If you are clearly about to become prey, don’t run away. Try to push the shark away with something other than your hands. Use your hands as a last-ditch effort but aim for the eyes or gills, anything soft that’s not the scary mouth.

Australia surfer Mick Fanning once survived a terrifying sneak attack from a shark by punching the crap out of it.

Photo via American Museum of Natural History. 

Still hooked on sharks?

The Coney Island Aquarium’s shark room is open every day; the American Museum of Natural History’s special Sharks exhibit is up through Sept. 4, where you can see a model of the megalodon or see fossils of the most BattleBots-ass shark to ever exist, the Helicoprion.

You can see a fictional megalodon instead and dive into the depths of the summer movie doldrums with the Meg 2, in theaters now. Or wait for a good shark movie: Jaws is playing for free on the 31st Street Open Street in Astoria on Saturday or at Rooftop Cinema Club in Midtown on Sept. 3.