It was breaking news in the New York metropolitan area after a woman was apparently bitten by a shark while swimming at Rockaway Beach on Monday. Photographs of the victim at the scene published by The New York Post showed Tatyana Koltunyuk, 65, with a bloodied lower left leg and what looked like an inch-long shallow wound just below her knee. Something got her, that’s for sure, but if it was a shark, it was an uninterested one at that. Actual records of shark attacks in New York State are very few; the Florida Museum’s International Shark Attack File says there have been 20 unprovoked incidents since 1837 — the most recent in the early 1950s.
Attacks by sharks are extremely rare but not impossible on the East End. With an abundance of menhaden in the water recently, the sleek predators have been spotted close to shore often. There were three fatal shark attacks in the entire United States during 2020, in what the International Shark Attack File said was an unusually deadly year; there was one fatal attack in 2022. And yet elected officials are falling all over themselves issuing press alerts that they are buying drones to keep an eye out for sharks and other mostly imagined threats to bathers.
The far bigger risk to life is drowning and near-drowning. Nationwide, an average of 4,083 unintentional drownings occurred each year from 2012 to 2021.
To the extent possible, everyone other than the strongest swimmers should not go into the ocean where there are no lifeguards. Even bay and pond waters can be fatal for those unable to swim or at risk of a sudden debilitating issue, such as a heart attack or breathing problem. Go ahead, worry about sharks if you want to, but please keep in mind that the water itself is where the actual danger lurks.