(CNN) — Authorities urged swimmers on Long Island, New York, to exercise caution after at least four people were injured in suspected shark attacks this month.
“We are telling people that if they are swimming, they need to swim in the areas where there are lifeguards. They should only go waist deep and be aware of their surroundings,” Ocean Beach Fire Department Chief Ian Levine told CNN Thursday.
The warning comes after several shark attacks have been reported since July 3 on the beaches of Long Island, a large peninsula that stretches nearly 125 miles east of New York City.
In the most recent attacks, a shark knocked a surfer off his stand-up paddleboard Wednesday morning at Smith Point County Park Beach, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said during a news conference. The surfer suffered a bite to the leg before hitting the shark and riding a wave to shore.
The beach was temporarily closed for several hours while officials scanned the area’s waters with drones for additional shark presence, Bellone added.
Hours later, a shark bit a 49-year-old man in waist-deep water off Fire Island after lifeguards left the beach for the day, police said. The man got out of the water and was later taken to a hospital by helicopter.
“He said he felt a large animal on his side rubbing against him. She went to move it and that’s when her hand was bitten off,” Levine said.
On Thursday, a state beach on Fire Island was briefly closed due to a shark sighting and reopened after a drone inspection found no sharks, according to authorities.
Bellone said shark activity closer to shore could be a new reality for beachgoers and safety officials.
“However, I think it’s an indication that what we’re seeing is something of a new normal where sharks are… these tiger sharks are a little bit closer to shore than they’ve been,” he said. . “They’ve always been there, of course, you’re interacting with marine life every time you’re in the ocean, but now they’re closer to shore. And those contacts, those interactions with humans and sharks may increase,” Bellon said.
Earlier this month, two lifeguards were attacked by sharks while playing victim during safety training drills.
Authorities temporarily closed the beach at Smith Point County Park after a shark bit a 10-year-experienced lifeguard on the chest and hand on July 3 during a training exercise. The beach was reopened in time for the July 4 holiday after drone scanning measures cleared the waters, Bellone told reporters at the time.
Another man training for an upcoming lifeguard test was attacked during a training exercise on July 8, less than two kilometers from the site of Wednesday’s shark encounter.
“He was actually playing the victim and he was coming out to be rescued and I guess all his punches caused the disturbance,” Levine told CNN.