Did Hamptons beaches close for basking sharks' scary name?

shark with huge mouth

Basking sharks have huge mouths but they won't eat you. They're vegetarians. / MA Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs

Some beaches in the Hamptons have been closed this week for basking sharks–the giant, gorgeous, totally non-threatening, vegetarian fish that can reach 20 feet long. They’re like big manatees, but with a scary name. Is New York missing out on an animal tourism opportunity just because they’re called sharks?

The Suffolk County Parks department told the Long Island Press that even though the sharks won’t bite people, they’re worried they’re so big they could spook and hit someone. The paper says that swimmers have been banned since “Tuesday afternoon after about a half a dozen nearly 20-foot-long sharks were spotted about 15 feet offshore.”

I haven’t ever heard of these feared whale shark collissions. I guess it’s the same danger a rambunctious family dog could pose to a small child; they won’t bite but they could knock them down. But basking sharks aren’t rambunctious at all. The Basking Shark Project says they normally move at 2.5 to 4, but they have been known to leap out of the water, either to remove parasites or impress mates.

What is well documented is that people LOVE to swim with basking sharks.  It’s a big tourism draw worldwide, especially around the UK, just like manatees are in Florida. In fact, the Basking Shark Project has the same problem of people getting too friendly with the basking sharks: “Basking Sharks are relatively docile creatures – often tolerant to approaches by boats and divers. This does not, however, give reason for these animals to be exploited as they have been on occasion.” In fact they made a code of conduct similar to the Florida manatee rules: stay on the surface, stay back 4m and don’t pet the basking shark.

Since these basking sharks show up regularly, maybe it’s time to set some rules and encourage safe viewing here instead of closing the shore.

sharkgreat white sharkbasking shark Where to SEE SHARKS
whaleorca Where to SEE WHALES




The range of the basking shark is huge, but the IUCN Red List says they're vulnerable.

diver with basking shark fin

Very large basking shark caught in a cod trap leader in the 1980s in Conception Bay, Newfoundland, Canada. The environmental impact of all types of fishing extend beyond the target species. / Derek Keats

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2 comments to Did Hamptons beaches close for basking sharks’ scary name?

  • i cant believe how interesting a basking shark is. they seem to be like huge man-eating nightmare but turms out to be just another gentle giant that is accused of being dangerous….i love basking sharks they are my new favorite animal and you have opened my eyes to not jugde things just by looks thank you so much. now i can go to the beach without worrying about shark attacks at least not from them.

  • this is an amazing story