On the sea and in the sky with NY’s new shark patrollers

On the sea and in the sky with NY's new shark patrollers

As public safety initiatives go, tracking an apex predator presents its fair share of operational challenges.

But if the stress of their new shark-detecting duties is getting to them, our guides aren’t showing it.

“They’re here, they’ve always been here, but now maybe there’s more of them,” shrugged Lt. Sean Reilly, a state police officer with the Department of Environmental Conservation. “What are you going to do?”

Reilly makes this observation aboard a state police boat, halfway through an hourslong expedition along the languid southern coast of Fire Island, part of the enhanced shark surveillance program announced last week by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Relying on a fleet of drones, helicopters, and police boats, the new patrols are meant to serve as an “early warning system for sharks,” Reilly notes, not unlike the Cold War-era missile-detection systems that once listened for trouble off the tip of Long Island. The multi-agency effort has pulled in state police officers, parks workers, marine biologists, and lifeguards.

At most hours of the day, swimmers at state beaches can expect to see the 17-foot police vessels patrolling a mile or so off the coast, with two law enforcement officials by watercraft, as if cruising the beat following a grisly crime.

Rumbling along the edge of Robert Moses Beach, we encounter pods of bottlenose dolphins, an osprey clutching a bait fish, and a parade of low-flying helicopters. We do not see any sharks, though this is apparently the norm. In the roughly two weeks of daily boat patrols, the state authorities have yet to spot a single shark.

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