Commissioner of NY State Parks Using Drones to Keep an Eye On Shark Populations

Based on a novel by Peter Benchley, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws has been terrifying people for 47 years. Every summer in the United States, movie theaters play the film to audiences that just can’t get enough of it. Spielberg wanted to create a film that made people believe that a man-eating shark could be lurking along the coast of any American town. Jaws was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard, MA to give that “small, any-town” vibe, though in the novel the fictional Amity Island was actually set in Long Island, NY.

Sharks can be found in all of the Earth’s oceans and have vast migratory paths. Great white sharks, like the beast from Jaws, prefer temperate coastal waters but are mostly found along the coasts of California, Australia, and South Africa. And though many sharks inhabit the coastal waters of the northeastern US, great whites were once considered a rarity to be seen from Maine down to Maryland. However, as ocean temperatures have warmed up and shark populations have increased, great whites and other sharks along the northeastern coast of the US have also increased.

Early in June, Jim Piazza of Media, PA, had a rare close encounter with a great white while fishing off the coast of NJ. Calmly swimming next to Jim’s 23ft boat was a 12ft long, 1,000lb great white that Jim was lucky enough to capture on video. A lifelong fisherman, Jim said “The videos don’t do it justice. It was just nonchalantly there. I’ve never seen anything like that.” For the 2021 summer beach season Erik Kulleseid, Commissioner of NY State Parks, announced that new safety programs would be introduced using technology like drones to keep an eye on shark populations.

“Long Island beaches are a crucial resource for New Yorkers in summer, and we must make sure people feel safe when visiting,” said Commissioner Kulleseid. “With assistance from New York State Police, we are expanding our measures to patrol for sharks and other potentially dangerous marine animals. I encourage all New Yorkers to familiarize themselves with the steps they can take to stay safe while enjoying a day at the beach.” The drone program was so successful, that NY’s Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation has decided to expand the program to cover more Long Island beaches.

Over the 2021 winter, the department bought 2 more drones to add to their arsenal. They plan to obtain another 3 drones in time for the 2022 4th of July holiday weekend. Along with the new drone equipment, the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation will be training 10 new pilots. These pilots will have to be Part 107 certified and receive special training for using drones to identify sharks and other marine wildlife.

Though shark sightings along the coast of NY and NJ have increased, it doesn’t mean Speilberg’s man-eating shark is going to be hunting the shoreline. “They are not going to come charging up the beach and attack a swimmer because they think it’s going to be a meal,” said Chris Paparo, of Stony Brook University’s Marine Sciences Center. But, he does urge all beachgoers to be aware of their surroundings and heed the advice of lifeguards. Thankfully, there will be plenty of drones on hand to keep Long Island’s beaches safe this summer.

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