Sharks Swim to the Hamptons But None of Them Kill Anyone

Long Island Aquarium
Long Island Aquarium, Tom Kochie

If you have been coming out to the Hamptons for a long time, then you’ve always known that Stephen Spielberg of East Hampton had the East End in mind when he directed the movie Jaws. But in the history of the Hamptons, there has not been a single shark attack.
But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been sightings. Here on the East End, sharks are very much a real part of the water. Take Montauk, for example, where anglers pull large sharks out of the ocean every year during shark tournaments. The largest shark ever caught by any human on rod and reel on record, over 3,000 pounds, was caught by a man from Montauk, and his name was Frank Mundus. Mundus argued until the day he died that he deserved some kind of credit and money for being the inspiration for the character “Quint” in the movie Jaws.
Lately there have been four reported shark sightings on the East End. Local baymen have accidentally caught three large sharks in their nets and let them go. One was a huge sand shark that looked terrifying, but was reported to be harmless. The shark was caught by Danny Lester in Amagansett, was over eight feet in length and estimated to be between 250 and 300 pounds. If you’ve ever been to the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, you have an idea of what this shark looked like in Lester’s net. The aquarium has sand sharks that appear extremely menacing and scary, and the one Lester caught and let go was from the wild.
But the incident was not an isolated case. Lifeguards have also spotted fins in the water and ordered people out of the water this summer.
In late May, sharks were spotted swimming alarmingly close to shore at Cupsogue and Smith Point County Beaches. Many lifeguards from Westhampton responded to the scene, not just to get people out of the water, but also to see the sight. The group of sharks prompted lifeguards to ban swimming in the area, which included surfers, after up to six fins were spotted roaming around the area and witnesses reported that the sharks were 15 feet in length. The report, although very worthy of headlines, again, involved harmless sharks. This time Basking sharks, which have tiny teeth.
Of course, a dead seal that washed up ashore in the same area didn’t help things for people who wondered whether or not the poor little guy met his fate at the teeth of blood-thirsty sharks. A big sign was even put up on the beach that read, “Absolutely No Swimming Due to Recent Shark Sightings.”
Still, more deadly sharks might be lurking. In early July, two Great Whites were sighted off a Cape Cod Beach. The sightings took place not up near Provincetown in the north but at the elbow of Cape Cod at Chatham in the south, not far from where the Atlantic Ocean links up with Block Island and Long Island Sounds. It would take a Great White just a day of high-speed swimming to reach Montauk and the Hamptons. Still, there is no reason to panic just yet—no Great Whites have been seen off our shores for at least the last ten years.
Back in East Hampton, the main guy when it comes to lifeguards is John Ryan Jr., who is the son of John Ryan Sr., and the entire family is like the lifeguard mafia in East Hampton. They are in charge, and Ryan Jr. and Sr. have seen their fair share of large fish in the water.
John Ryan Jr. stated, and quite accurately I might add, that people can confuse sunfish with sharks because they are so large. Sunfish are completely harmless, but do sometimes have their fins stick out of the water like a shark does and can be scary to people who don’t know what they are seeing. Sunfish are so harmless that surfers and lifeguards in the Hamptons have been known to swim out to them on longboards and play with them like you would with a group of dolphins.
Still, in Montauk, a shark sighting was reported at Gurney’s Inn, and in East Hampton, one was supposedly spotted at the Maidstone Club.
Is there anything to worry about? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Take it from me, a former lifeguard in East Hampton, who can tell you that there has absolutely never been a shark attack on Long Island, EVER. It’s never happened. You need to worry about being a strong swimmer and being smart about rip tides. That’s the worry.
Although I will admit that, even I, when out for a swim, can get in my mind that image of Jaws lurking beneath my feet…
Da dum…da dum….da dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, AHHH!!! I’M TAKING THE NEXT WAVE IN!

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