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Jul 29, 2009 1:06 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Surfers injured by feeding bluefish at Sagg

Jul 29, 2009 1:06 PM

At least two surfers were taken to Southampton Hospital on Friday afternoon with severe bites to their feet, and several other people in the water at a Sagaponack beach suffered less serious bites to their feet and hands from bluefish that were feeding on a large school of baitfish pushed toward shore by storms.

At least one surfer in Southampton Village also suffered a bluefish bite on Friday.

Witnesses said that a teenaged surfer at Sagg Main Beach was bleeding heavily from his foot when he came out of the water and may have lost a toe 
as a result of the fish bites. He was taken by Bridgehampton Fire Department ambulance to Southampton Hospital.

“There was a lot of blood,” said surfer Zachary Ducak, who saw medical personnel tending to the surfer at Sagg Main. “They had it wrapped up very heavily. He must have gotten chewed up really bad.”

Mr. Ducak said that he and other surfers saw bluefish swimming around them throughout the day. “I saw a couple that were big,” he said, spreading his arms nearly 3 feet apart. “There was a couple times where I was, like, ‘Is that a shark or a bluefish?’”

At about 3 p.m., lifeguards ordered all swimmers to remain inside the surf break to stay clear of the marauding bluefish, according to Southampton Town Department of Parks Superintendent Allyn Jackson.

Another man, who was body surfing near Road D in Southampton Village, was also taken to the hospital after being bitten in the surf.

“I’m in the water, and I felt something hit me in the side, and you always think of a shark or whatever, so I got out right away,” said Richard Spettell. “A woman said she’d seen fish splashing, and I figured it was bluefish and striped bass, so I got back in—and, all of a sudden, I felt something bite my foot. That was scary.”

Mr. Spettell suffered two semi-circular bite wounds to his foot and was taken to Southampton Hospital, where, he said, he was in the ER next to the surfer bitten at Sagg Main. He said doctors thought the other man’s bite wound would probably require surgery. “His foot was really ripped up,” Mr. Spettell said.

Bluefish biting surfers or swimmers is not unheard of. Ocean beach lifeguards frequently have to order swimmers out of the water as churning schools of bluefish move down a beach but he fish are usually small, plainly visible and move through a given area quickly. Friday’s events were odd because the fish were not readily visible, remained in the area for most of the day, and were very large—between 10 and 15 pounds, according to fishermen who caught them.

“It was unusual,” Mr. Jackson said. “Every once in a while you get an incident of a bluefish bite, but in my experience we’ve never had something like this, with multiple bites on the same day.”

The bluefish were apparently attracted to the beaches in large numbers by schools of bunker, a common prey species of fish. An adult bunker is yellowish in color and about the same size as a human foot. Bunker normally spend their summers in coastal bays, but they have been spotted off ocean beaches in large schools along the South Fork this summer.

During Thursday’s strong storms, thousands of bunker died after being chased out of the water by the hungry bluefish at Sagg Main. The dead bunker washing back into the sea with the next tide cycle or possibly remaining schools of the fish kept the bluefish in the area until Friday.

Thursday’s storms also kicked up high waves, attracting more than 100 surfers to the waters off Sagg Main starting early Friday morning.

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FEEDING bluefish?????
By barnbabe (64), westhampton beach on Jul 25, 09 1:42 PM
i'll find him for three, but I'll catch him, and kill him, for ten.

Ten thousand dollars for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.
By hamptonchic (11), Bridgehampton on Jul 25, 09 1:54 PM
2 members liked this comment
Surfing and saw a swarm of bluefish right next to me. Intense...
By lirider (157), Westhampton Beach on Jul 25, 09 3:01 PM
maybe thats why baby blues are called snappers? lol
By squeaky (286), hampton bays on Jul 25, 09 3:02 PM
1 member liked this comment
my son was one of them... thankfully not a deep bite, but scary!
By apsara (1), Amagansett on Jul 25, 09 9:14 PM
God bless all the injured. Sounds like something from the apocalipse andarmageddon.
By guess who (6), Southampton on Jul 25, 09 9:51 PM
woops, that's apocalypse and armageddon
By guess who (6), Southampton on Jul 25, 09 9:53 PM
snapper head i think?
By pinga (90), hamptonbays on Jul 26, 09 6:54 AM
schools of feeding blues dont sneak up on anyone, one lifeguard said they saw no birds and no bait fish at the surface if this is true, they may have gotten bit my something else... yikes !

By jk (1), southampton on Jul 26, 09 9:28 AM
jk from southampton- They may not sneak up on anyone but when the thing flops up onto your surfboard and you SEE it's a bluefish, I think it's safe to say that the bleeding guy next to you, was bit by a bluefish, not something else. Not to mention, regardless of the lifeguards not seeing any birds or bait fish, plenty of people in the water on surfboards saw the bluefish jumping. These are local guys who know what bluefish look like being that they surfed and fished here their whole lives.
By LocalTeacher (23), Southampton on Jul 26, 09 12:50 PM
3 members liked this comment
Good answer teach! Lol
By squeaky (286), hampton bays on Jul 26, 09 3:06 PM
A school of bluefish could kill you in a few seconds. I've often wondered what would happen if you fell off a boat into a feeding school of them. That being said, I never heard of an event like this.
By BruceB (130), Sag Harbor on Jul 26, 09 6:52 PM
anyone who has ever seen a school of bluefish in a frenzy knows exactly what it looks like.
By littleplains (305), olde england on Jul 27, 09 10:30 AM
good thing they were not "skinny surfing".
By fishy (88), East Hampton on Jul 27, 09 11:55 AM
1 member liked this comment
Sounds like a Monty Python skit to me. Oh never mind that was a killer rabbit.
By Local dad (51), North Sea on Jul 27, 09 9:00 PM
1 member liked this comment
put a band-aid on it --- i have little mermaid or strawberry shortcake.
By looper (1), southampton on Aug 4, 09 12:50 AM
Horse show, hampton classic, bridgehampton, competition