Many bathers at Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays were surprised to find a basking shark—a large, slow-moving variety of shark that is not known to attack humans—swimming near the shore on Sunday afternoon.
Earlier that day, the U.S. Coast Guard and Southampton Town bay constables responded to several calls after beachgoers reported seeing a large fin in the water off the shore of West Hampton Dunes Village. Quogue and Westhampton Beach village police were notified about the shark at around 11 a.m. and warned bathers at various beaches along Dune Road to stay out of the water until the shark had passed as a precaution.
It appears that the same basking shark that was observed in West Hampton Dunes on Sunday morning had made its way east to the Shinnecock Canal by 4 p.m. that day. Town Police said that similar reports were filed from as far west as Rockaway Beach in Queens.
Matt Murphy, the owner of Matt Murphy Event Lighting in Southampton, was at Ponquogue Beach on Sunday afternoon as the shark, which appeared to be about 20 feet in length, swam within 25 feet of shore.
“A big crowd formed and everybody started running,” Mr. Murphy said. “A couple of kids jumped in the water.”
He said that officers on a nearby U.S. Coast Guard boat appeared to be monitoring the basking shark as it continued its way eastward.
On Tuesday, representatives with the U.S. Coast Guard Station Shinnecock confirmed that the shark was, in fact, a basking shark.
The basking shark is the second-largest shark species in the world, trailing only the whale shark. The basking shark earned its name because it is most often observed while feeding close to shore. It is a passive filter feeder, meaning that it opens its mouth and swallows large amounts of sea water while filtering out small fish and plankton to eat.