Rockaway Beach reopens after woman loses 20 pounds of flesh in shark bite

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

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Police and fire officials were along the shore and flying drones above the water as they kept an eye out for sharks in the area of Rockaway Beach that had been closed after a woman was believed to have been bitten in a very rare instance of a NYC encounter.

The beach was reopened Wednesday, less than two days after a 65-year-old woman, since identified as Tatyana Koltunyuk, was in the water just before 6 p.m. Monday near 59th Street when a shark bit into her left leg, the city parks department said in a statement. Police said that Koltunyuk was standing in the water when she felt a strong, sharp pain in her lower left leg that caused her to fall backwards into the waves.

She was pulled from the water by lifeguards and received medical attention on the beach, being administered first aid and having a tourniquet applied to her leg. She was taken to Jamaica Hospital, where she is recovering from the serious injuries she suffered. Koltunyuk lost about 20 pounds of flesh as a result of the shark bite, which left a gaping wound several inches wide and deep.

After the encounter, Koltunyuk's family said in a statement that she is grateful to be alive and "we are deeply moved by the outpouring of support we have received, but for now we ask above all for everyone respect our privacy as we focus all of our energies on helping her to recover."

While the beach is open once again, the FDNY and NYPD are were seen using drones to look for sharks and large schools of fish the sharks tend to feed on. The FDNY's units will fly over 10 miles of Rockaway Beach, while the NYPD's larger fleet of drones will scan all NYC beaches.

Harbor units, helicopters, lifeguards and other interagency resources will be used to keep an eye out for the marine predators. Officials said the monitoring will occur before the beaches open, while they are open and after they close.

There were no reported sightings on Wednesday.

The unusually severe incident appears to be without precedent in recent decades, as there had not been reports of a shark bite at a NYC beach 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.”

Rockaway Beach remains closed right now as patrols search for the shark that bit a woman yesterday. Carolyn Manno reports.

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.

But 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.

Swimmers are back in the water at Robert Moses State Park after it was temporarily closed because of a shark sighting. Greg Cergol reports.

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. “

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