Officials reopen Rockaway Beach to swimming following rare shark attack
A woman was seriously injured after a shark bit through her thigh while she was swimming at a New York City beach, officials said, an unusually severe attack that appears to be without precedent in recent decades.
The 65-year-old woman, whose name has not been released, was swimming off Rockaway Beach just before 6 p.m. Monday when a shark bit into her left leg, the city parks department said in a statement.
The bite removed a chunk of flesh from her thigh, leaving a gaping wound several inches wide and deep, according to a photo shared with The Associated Press.
Lifeguards pulled the woman from the water, administered first aid and applied a tourniquet to her leg. She was taken to a nearby hospital, with police describing her condition as critical but stable.
The bite appeared to be the most serious shark attack in New York waters since at least the 1950s, said Gavin Naylor, the program director of the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida. He said the bite mark was most consistent with a juvenile white shark, though he said it may have also been a bull shark or sandbar shark.
“This is a very severe injury from something that’s powerful and unambiguous,” he said. “It’s very deliberate.”
Most reported bites in New York waters involve smaller sharks mistaking a person’s ankle or lower leg for a fish, leaving behind minor grazing marks or puncture wounds. In recent years, New York has seen an uptick in those types of shark encounters, though none of the resulting injuries were considered serious.
“This is something qualitatively different,” Naylor said.
Christopher Paparo, the manager of Stony Brook University’s Marine Sciences Center, agreed the wound was “unlike anything we’ve been seeing.”
Authorities banned swimming on Rockaway Beach on Tuesday, as police flew a drone over the area, scanning the murky surf for signs of a fin. They said they hadn’t seen any sharks since Monday’s incident. On Wednesday, officials conducted a surveillance search in the waters and did not find any shark activity.
MORE: Shark bite at Rockaway Beach leaves woman in critical condition, officials say; beach closed Tuesday
Roughly 25 miles east, on Long Island, officials spotted multiple sharks near the shoreline on Tuesday morning, leading to shutdowns of parts of Jones Beach.
Shark sightings and minor bites have become more frequent in New York waters, as the predators are drawn closer to shore by a growing population of bait fish that have flourished under recent conservation efforts.
In the past two summers, at least 13 swimmers reported being bitten off the coast of Long Island, surpassing the total of reported bites throughout New York history prior to 2022. None of the recent injuries were considered serious, however.
On Rockaway Beach, a bustling city shoreline that often attracts more than 100,000 people in a single day, officials have repeatedly closed stretches of water after shark sightings in the past two summers.
But shark bites remain exceptionally rare off the city’s shoreline, with the last recorded bite on Rockaway Beach dating back as far as 1950, when a 16-year-old boy required stitches after he was bitten in the leg.
A spokesperson for the Parks Department, Meghan Lalor, said there wasn’t a record of a shark bite in “recent memory.”
“Though this was a frightening event, we want to remind New Yorkers that shark bites in Rockaway are extremely rare,” Lalor added. “We remain vigilant in monitoring the beach and always clear the water when a shark is spotted. “
The victim's family provided the following statement:
"Our mother is grateful to be alive after today's events, and we're all thankful to the lifeguards, emergency response workers, and team at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.
We are deeply moved by the outpouring of support we have received, but for now we ask above all for everyone to respect our privacy as we focus all of our energies on helping her to recover."