In the past month, many beaches on Fire Island have closed temporarily due to shark sightings close to shore. The sharks are drawn in due to massive schools of bunker, or menhaden, that gather.
“When I first saw them, I had no idea what it was,” said Hannah Schrader, a resident of the Fire Island Pines, about the schools of bunker fish. “It looks like a big irregular dark moving mass, and you can actually hear them swimming around. If birds fly over the mass or a bigger fish comes from under it, all the fish jump.”
“I have never in all my time of living over here, have ever seen such a large amount.”
At Davis Park, there was a three-day ban on swimming at the beach from Aug. 2 to Aug. 6, after sharks were seen feeding offshore. At Sailors Haven, part of the Fire Island National Seashore, swimming was briefly banned the weekend of Aug. 14 due to shark sightings.
Judie Jayne, a resident of Davis Park, said that after sharks were seen at Jones Beach in early August, helicopters flew over the ocean at Davis Park ensuring none were in the water there.
“They were flying very low and scanning the area,” Jayne said.
In addition to the sharks, humpback whales and dolphins have also been seen off Fire Island, as they feed on bunker fish as well. The most commonly seen shark species off Fire Island include sand tiger sharks and sandbar sharks.
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, sand tiger sharks “use Long Island estuaries such as the Great South Bay, which provide nursery habitat for juveniles during summer months.”
The DEC lists sand tiger sharks as a relatively docile shark species. Sandbar sharks can reach up to 8 feet, and although they pose little threat to humans due to their preference for smaller prey, they are more likely to interact with humans because of their use of coastal habitats, according to the DEC.
To try and get a glimpse of the schools of bunker fish, check out fireislandandbeyond.com and click to view their cams from the Davis Park Casino.