Sharks in Hawaii keep some people out of the water.
They can scare people to the core. Galeophobia is the fear of sharks and most of us have it to some degree. JAWS, the movie, sure didn’t help people get over that fear, and this article will likely only exacerbate whatever fear you have in your own head about sharks in Hawaii, though I can assure you, my intention is to help you get a more realistic picture of the shark situation around the Hawaiian Islands.
HAWAII SHARK BASICS
Sharks are top-level vertebrate predators that fear nothing and eat whatever they can catch. The average shark life expectancy is of between 20 and 30 years, depending on the species. A few species like the Great White and Tiger sharks in Hawaii can grow to over 20 feet long, are heavy, and have a large turning radius so they would have trouble catching their usual prey if they didn’t have some great sensory organs to help them find prey. Sharks have no problem finding things to eat, even in total darkness or muddy water. If it’s dark, the shark has cat-like eyes which clarify the image. It’s actually a row of small reflective plates that redirect the light through the retina a second time that allows sharks to see their prey even in the extreme light-deficient depths of the ocean.
A shark’s sense of smell is fine-tuned for blood. Sharks can sense one particle of blood in a million. It can track the blood through the water to the source in a short time, in part because the shark can distinguish the strength of the smell in each nostril and turn toward where the scent is strongest. This is one reason nobody with an open wound or females during menstruation should enter the ocean where sharks could be lurking.
So many things give the shark the extra edge in hunting prey: lateral line, smell, sight, hearing, and ampullae of Lorenzini.
Special Sense Organs of Sharks
Ampullae of Lorenzini – This specialized organ gives the shark a sort of 6th sense, giving it the ability to detect electromagnetic fields as well as temperature gradients. Sharks could possibly be more sensitive to electric fields than any other animal. With a centimeter-long ampulla, they can sense 5 one billionths of a volt of electricity. That is approximately 5 million times stronger than what humans can sense.
Lateral Line – these receptors in this organ help the shark sense movement of water, and vibrations in the water. Using the lateral line, a shark can feel movement in the water surrounding it up to 330 feet away.
Sharks are fast enough to catch a lot of different prey. Great White sharks can reach a swim speed of 50 kilometers per hour (30 miles per hour), when preparing an attack, though most sharks max out around 12 mph.
WHAT KIND OF SHARKS LIVE IN HAWAII?
There are 41 distinct species of shark in Hawaii’s warm Pacific Ocean. As far as we know, these are the most dangerous: Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier); Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias); Galapagos Sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis); Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucas); Mako Sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus; Isurus paucus); and Hammerhead Sharks (Sphyrna zygaena; Sphyrna lewini). Of the other 35 species, most are smaller reef sharks, and some have bitten people, but those mentioned above are ones to be concerned with in Hawaii. Identification of a shark as one of the less harmful species does not mean you should fail to take it seriously when in the water. Do be careful with every shark, they all have large mouths, many teeth, and can cause significant wound damage with a bite.
The most frequently encountered Hawaiian reef sharks?
The White Tipped Reef Shark, Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Tiger Shark, Galapagos Shark, Gray Reef Shark, and the Sandbar Shark. The Tiger Shark and the Galapagos Shark are the most aggressive of the Hawaiian reef sharks. The other known Hawaii sharks don’t typically attack for any reason, but when provoked or when blood is in the water from spear-fishing, anything goes. Hawaii reef sharks can be aggressive, but they usually need blood in the water to become dangerous.
WHAT DO SHARKS EAT?
The typical shark diet includes fish, turtles, squid, sea snakes, rays, Hawaiian monk seals, and dolphins. Occasionally they’ll eat birds, dogs, trash, pieces of boat, human beings, and even each other.
Sharks are more active for hunting during the time right before sunset and sunrise, and night. They prefer murky unclear water because they can use their ampullae of Lorenzini organs to sense the electrical fields in their prey and attack them easily, though they cannot see it. In turn, sharks can be invisible to their prey, a good thing when they are a couple of meters long and hundreds of pounds. Their size makes them easy to see and avoid for prey in the clear water.
Sharks typically hunt for fish, turtles, dolphins and seals during the low light times of dusk and dawn. Sharks can detect the faint electrical fields given off by all living organisms, and even by the magnetic field of the earth! As they recon the water, receptors on the sharks’ snouts allow them to locate their prey without seeing it.
SHARKS IN OLD HAWAII
Hawaiians called the god of the sharks, Kauhuhu. They have many stories about sharks they have passed down through generations. The Hawaiian word for shark is, mano.
The Shark-Man, Nanaue, by E.M. Nakuina
WHY DO SHARKS ATTACK PEOPLE IN HAWAII?
The experts say sharks attack people as a case of mistaken identity. I take issue with this. After thousands of shark attacks worldwide, some in which the sharks consume some or most of bodies of the victim, I have to disagree with that statement. Sometimes sharks know what you are, and know they can eat you, and do. There are enough people in the water that sharks know what we are. We are a food source. We may not be a preferred food source, but, over countless millenia, anything soft enough that enters the ocean, is eaten by sharks. They don’t care all that much what it is. They are opportunistic feeders. They eat what is present. If you are present, they will eat you if they are hungry. It isn’t personal. It’s ridiculous to say that all cases of shark attack are misidentification. Sharks have sensory organs that enable them to sense the electrical fields of animals. They have eyes. They have lateral lines. They know what turtles move like in and on top of the water. They know how seals move. They know what fish look like. They know what humans look like.
Sharks attack people for many reasons. Primarily, they have either decided a human in the water is a valid food source, or, is a potential food source, and give a little nip before deciding. Many times sharks decide they don’t want to eat a person, and they don’t finish the job. Other times, sharks eat the entire person. It’s not mistaken identity at that point. They know it isn’t a seal or turtle. They eat it anyway. If you have a look at that Wiki article about shark attacks in the USA – you’ll get the idea real fast that sharks eat humans often. Keep in mind, that is just attacks in the USA. There are another hundred or so nations with borders on an ocean with sharks. There are thousands of documented attacks worldwide, and some are scarier than any movie depiction.
HOW MANY SHARK ATTACKS IN HAWAII YEARLY?
There are usually three to four shark attacks in Hawaii per year and usually no fatalities result. However, just recently a German tourist lost her arm, and just today she died in intensive care at Maui Memorial Medical Center after being treated for a week. She was bitten while snorkeling off Maui at Hamoa Beach. Most attacks involve arms or legs and there is no further bite after the first one. The last fatal attack in Hawaii before this was in 2004.
I created a Google Docs spreadsheet called, Hawaii Shark Attacks, covering the years 2001 to 2013, to see if it would help me get a better idea of the reality of shark attacks in Hawaii. What I found was surprising.
Shark Incidents by Year
I was also interested in what time of day sharks attack most often, so I could ascertain if there was a time of day worth avoiding. Sharks appear to be consistently on the hunt from 0600 to 1800. The numbers of attacks are fairly constant. The lull around 8 am. to 10 am. might be because few people are in the water during that time. The 6 am. to 8 am. time period has a lot of regulars on “Dawn Patrol” – surfers that meet every morning before work when the crowds are non-existent. Here’s a look at the number of attacks during each two-hour period in military time (0600 is 6 am. on the 12-hour clock):
- 0600-0800 – 12 attacks
- 0801-1000 – 6
- 1001-1200 – 12
- 1201-1400 – 13
- 1401-1600 – 10
- 1601-1800 – 10
Does the clarity of the water have any bearing on the attacks in Hawaii? It seems to. Out of 63 attacks over the past almost thirteen years, there were attacks during clear water – 26 times. Seems like sharks bite whenever they are hungry, regardless of water clarity. They might prefer sandy, turbid, muddy water by a 2-to-1 margin, but, they bite plenty of times when the water is clear.
In the last almost 200 years, there have been 8 deaths attributed to sharks around the Hawaiian islands. But there have also been numerous events where people have been lost at sea while swimming or surfing, boating, where a shark attack was non-conclusive. Some of these are likely shark attacks and involved fatalities. There have been over 116 attacks during this time period. So, roughly one out of twenty attacks has resulted in human death.
Thirty four of the shark attacks in the islands were either identified as tiger sharks by witnesses or victims, or the conclusion was drawn after examining evidence post-attack.
Researching further, I found the Wikipedia entry for shark attacks in the United States. If you are an avid surfer, snorkeler, diver, spearfisher, or anybody that gets in the ocean around Hawaii for any reason, I have to caution you before you read the descriptions of attacks at this link. I just spent twenty minutes reading it and soaking it all in, and I don’t know whether I’ll ever ride a surfboard again. Some of the attacks are just mind-numbing. Here’s the link. I’m not joking when I caution you not to read this page if you want to continue spending time in the water, because some of you might change your mind after reading this: Wiki Shark Attacks in USA.
It isn’t all bad though. There are many things you can do to avoid shark encounters, or at least lessen the probability of being attacked by one. Here are some of the most highly recommended tips by experts.
1. Avoid murky water. When it rains, the run off of freshwater over the land and into the ocean creates a very murky marine environment which sharks love. They love it because their prey cannot see them before they attack, so they can eat as much as they want. They sense their prey using the electric impulses all living creatures emit. If you look at my spreadsheet you’ll see that about 2/3’s of attacks occurred in turbid water (crashing waves usually), the water is not clear because of bubbles and sand being stirred up.
2. Do not enter the water when bleeding, however slight.
3. Avoid spearfishing, which puts significant amounts of blood in the water. If spearfishing, don’t attach your fish to a stringer and then attach it to your body, and change your location often.
4. Avoid swimming near someone netting, or using chum for fishing.
5. Use low contrast colors and patterns. It’s like fishing, you don’t fish with camouflage lures, you fish with high-contrast colors and patterns so the fish can see it and attack it. Well, with sharks you want to be as invisible as possible. Choose low contrast clothes, scuba equipment, and surfboards. Remember, it’s the bottom of the board the shark can see, not the top. Dark blue surf or diving gear is probably best.
6. Don’t enter the water alone.
7. Don’t swim or surf too far from shore.
8. Don’t enter the water at night.
9. Be alert for signs from other animals that may signal sharks nearby. Dolphins in close to shore, baitfish jumping out of the water, etc.
10. Avoid swimming close to the mouths of rivers or streams where they empty into the ocean.
11. Avoid swimming or surfing near jetties, piers or other structures in the water. Sharks often feed at such places.
12. Avoid loud splashing, hard physical splashing, jumping straight into an area that might have sharks. All these activities attract sharks. Don’t swim with dogs, horses, or other animals, their movements may attract a predator.
ANTI-SHARK SYSTEMS (DETERRENTS)
There have been various inventions that are said to reduce shark attacks by repelling them with electronic pulses, scents, and sounds. Over the years I’ve seen very, very few people ever surfing with one of these contraptions. I don’t know why surfers are so against them. Personally, I’d use it every time I went out, if I knew it would work.
Here’s a wearable shark repellent system for around $600 at Amazon.com. It looks a little clumsy to wear while surfing, but still – the benefit probably outweighs the dork factor, I’d think. Seachange Shark Shield
The devices work by causing discomfort to the sharks through their ampullae of Lorenzini – as I mentioned earlier, it’s the electrical sensing organ sharks use to size up prey. This seems like the best way to go about it. I saw a photo of a guy on a boat putting the palm of his hand on the nose of a large shark, which is said to short-out the shark’s brain for a bit because there is too much stimulation coming through the ampullae of Lorenzini. If sharks can detect these very faint electrical impulses, then blasting them with some strong signals that overwhelms them seems like a great strategy. Some devices can be placed in the leash for your board, or on the board itself.
The owner of one of the companies I worked for on Oahu told me about a weekend trip to Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu one time. He and his family were all sitting there eating food at a picnic, when all the sudden about 40 meters away from the beach a giant tiger shark jumped out of the water, high in the air, and had a dolphin (like flipper, not mahi-mahi), in its mouth. It then tore the dolphin apart in front of a hundred or so onlookers.
Welcome to the real world kids, pull up a chair, grab yourself a chicken leg and watch the show – right?
My shark story happened when I was living in Clearwater, Florida. I would go wade fishing in water up to my chest. I was catching big gator trout one morning and I had three of them on a long stringer that I had wrapped around my girlfriend’s neck. As you can see, I gave no thought to sharks at that time. Within ten minutes of moving the stringer from my neck to hers, she flew into the back of me, almost knocking me down, at the very same time I felt a massive shark bump against my thigh as it passed. It had apparently grabbed the trout on the stringer and was heading for deep water. My girlfriend was trying to tell me she was being pulled by the stringer around her neck, but we couldn’t talk or anything, it happened so fast. Eventually I was able to slip the stringer over her head and pull her back to shore. She was really shaken up and refused to get in the water again that day, and she refused to go fishing with me ever again. Go figure, right?!
I’ve seen it stated a couple of times that the odds of being attacked by a shark in the United States is about 1 in 6 Million. If you live in Hawaii and spend time in the water every day, I’m going to say that the odds increase considerably, and not in your favor. Most people never see a shark while surfing, or swimming. I saw shark fins while surfing twice in Hawaii. They were very small, and I wasn’t really afraid at all at the time. Usually a shark attack isn’t preceded by a fin you can see coming at you like it is in the movies. Yearly in Hawaii there are an average of three to four shark attacks in the waters around the islands. In 2012 there were eleven attacks. In 2013 already we have had eight, four in Maui alone, and we’re only in the latter half of August.
I’ve swam and surfed at many of the spots listed on my spreadsheet where people have been attacked by sharks. Kihei, Ka’anapali, Sunset Beach, Makena, Baldwin Beach, Ewa Beach, Nimitz, Bellows AFS, Velzyland, Honokowai, Sandy’s, Kapalua, and these are just beaches where attacks have taken place over the past 12 years. Kihei and Ka’anapali, Honokowai areas seem to be a couple of hotspots that I’ll likely avoid in the future. However, Makapu’u on Oahu still looks good!
Ok, that wraps it up. Have a look at my Hawaii Shark Attacks Spreadsheet if you haven’t already. If you have a shark story, I’d love to hear it in the comments!
This article was written by Vern Lovic and the opinions are his own
2012 Summary of Shark Attacks globally.
This is one of, if not the biggest overreaction I have ever seen in my life. When swimming in the ocean, sharks are the LOWEST POSSIBLE WORRY I have. Even in places that sharks frequent, getting struck by lightning or getting shot are still higher up on that list of worries while swimming.
You say “the experts say this but I disagree”. So what, you disagree with the professionals that study this stuff for years on end because you have what, a senseless phobia? In my DECADES of going swimming, snorkeling, and SCUBA diving, I rarely see sharks, ever. When I do see one, you know what I do? I admire it, snap a few pictures if I have my underwater camera with me, and then continue on. The shark’s not going to attack me, it has no interest in doing so. Still have yet to be attacked by a shark. Hell, I’ve even pet one. They’re sea dogs. Territorial, but otherwise friendly.
This is just ragebait and extremely harmful to sharks. You see people in the comments now going on about how we should kill sharks, which to say the least, is permanently damaging. Let me provide you with some facts. Most shark attacks happen because they were directly provoked by an idiot. Of the remainder, the sharks almost never bite a second time, if they do, the attack was a defense of their territory or children. As a result almost no one dies of shark attacks, ever. Worldwide, 4 people die per year on average. More than 3x that amount of people die via misadventure with vending machine annually. And it’s not like these people were eaten, no, they just died of blood loss or shock, or a later infection. The idea of a human actually being EATEN by a shark is even more rare. I can find only two cases where a human MAY have been consumed, and even then, it’s very likely that the sharks were on the verge of death starving.
Seriously, this article is stupidly harmful. We kill 100 million sharks per year, and this is supremely damaging to the ecosystem. Most people don’t care because they think sharks are scary monsters, and this article just perpetuates that. All you need to do to avoid a shark attack: NOTHING. Don’t thrash around, don’t freak out, don’t do anything to threaten it, and it will leave you the hell alone. I’m pissed off.
Thanks for sharing. This got tagged as really bad spam and was in the trash and I’m glad I found it.
I’ve seen sharks quite a few times while surfing in Georgia, Florida, and California.
My scariest encounter was while surfing at Jekyll Island Georgia years ago.
I was standing in waist deep water holding my board and looking for a wave to catch. I had seen no sign of any sharks when all of a sudden one about 10 feet long surfaced suddenly right beside me, about a foot and a half away. I could have easily grabbed it’s fin it was so close, but it just swam away.
I think it may have been a bull shark because they are in the area.
My impression is that the shark, whose fin I never even saw in the shallow water before it surfaced was going to attack me but changed its mind at the last moment for some reason. Of course I got quickly out of the water.
A couple of times I’ve seen groups of 4 or 5 sharks swimming and perhaps hunting together and one huge shark in Jacksonville Florida I believe was a great white. It wasn’t too close but I got out of the water asap but it fortunately it was ignoring me anyway.
Hope to stay clear of them when I visit Hawaii in October!
Mahalo for sharing your great story!
Hvae you ever heard of Behtany Hamilton? If so can i have some facts about her and her background story. In my school we are working on annotated bibliography. I choose a book about Behtany and so far i’ve read past the shark attack. In the shark atack she lost an arm while surfing with friends.
There was a movie made about her story. It’s really amazing. Hope you’re enjoying the book.
I was attacked this week off Anaehoomalu Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. If any credible scientist wants info, I am happy to oblige.
I’m sorry to that and hope you’re OK
As a Bio/Zoology PhD and Shark behavioral expert, I would suggest caution when saying sharks do know and have the intention to bite you. Shark vision is poor and each species has a target shape which instinctually is a symbol of food for them; Great Whites is a torpedo-shape, much like sea lions or seals, Tigers are rounder like Sea Turtles, etc. Sharks are a crucial component of a marine ecosystem and trying to say they are intentionally biting humans (I understood what you were trying to say but the phrasing implies a certain maliciousness of the sharks!) is detrimental to their preservation. They do not purposefully eat people, they take “exploratory bites” testing the fat content of what they are biting and measure how sustainable that source will be in regards to their energy. Sharks have poor vision and rely on instinct for survival. I am not intending to be critical, just trying to protect and conserve the animal I love dearly!
Thank you for your contribution!
Absurd. Sharks are apex predators. They’ve been evolving for at least 250 million years. They have excellent vision as well as other highly specialized senses allowing them to locate and identify prey.
Seriously doubt your academic credentials.
Isabella shared her credentials. Just curious; what are yours, James?
Actually, they don’t. Their vision is mediocre at the best of times. They do, however, have “Highly specialized Senses” that allow them to locate (but not identify) prey. Their ampullae of Lorenzini allow them to sense the electrical signals of other animals in the water, but not identify exactly what it is. As stated in the article, they prefer to hunt in murky water, thus rendering good eyesight obsolete. Their eyesight is alright, but worse than yours (likely).
Regarding your assertion that they’ve been “evolving” for 250m years, that’s hardly true. Great White Sharks are effectively scaled-down versions of the same thing that roamed the ocean during the time of the dinosaurs (megalodon). Their primary hunting strategies have remained largely unchanged for millions of years. They’d already evolved to where they needed to be to survive – they had no reason to evolve further. Thus, they haven’t.
Before you ask of my credentials – I’ve been a shark enthusiast for much of my life, since Junior High. I’m not a scientist, however none of this is uncommon knowledge.
Thanks for reading, hope someone got something out of this~
Never trust an “expert”! They are a dime a dozen and with the quality of university education these days any credentials are meaningless. A shark lover will present skewed analysis to support their bias. Time for shark fin soup to make a comeback.
I lived on Maui many years ago. Here are my shark experiences to share.
One time I personally encountered a shark 4 + feet long while snorkeling unexpectedly alone and isolated from a tourist group :o
I was in fact on my last day of my menses with very little bleeding and was very worried I would have a shark encounter, but my hubby had booked a snorkel cruise as a work perk and I was excited to go out on the boat and snorkel off shore. Hubby and I are not crowd people and were more adventuresome than the tourists that day so wandered to the far corners of reasonable distance from the boat which of course was a tad too far.. Hubby has this bad habit of wandering off and indeed had, so I was far from the boat and alone when this grey tip came from behind me and swam underneath me close enough to touch if I wasn’t so terrified!! It did indeed check me out, slowing under me before slinking under coral and I was unable to relocate it :o
I was trying to stay calm and find hubby but he was nowhere so I began to swim back to the boat asap and he turned up and swam back with me.
I do indeed think blood attracted it along with my isolation from an obvious touristy snack group. Hubby and I were only ones w o sunscreen on too so likely more yummy lol..
My other shark experiences involved a kayak where I discovered a black tip shark habitat by paddling through over 100 unexpected black shark tips!! This habitat was visited by our family many times before we moved back to the mainland..
My family once was lifted up by a grey whale mother while we were in a 20 ft panga boat in Mexico too :o
You could see her surfacing slowly beneath us and she kept rising and we are like whoa! What’s she going to do? We were dwarfed by her size below us and she gently lifted the boat effortlessly from the water with the boat on her body and rocked us all a few times and set us gently back into the waters surface!! Just before she did this she came up to the boat with her big eye and looked at us all, focusing on my baby in a pack on dads back. She then allowed my other children to pet her baby and blew a small bit of water at one of my kids :o after this interaction she proceeded to rock my baby I think by lifting up and moving the boat :o
Fantastic sharing! Mahalo building! I’m certain so many people will appreciate this!
Hi Peter Kay, and Readers!
April of 2014, about 3 pm, while I was walking/swimming in the clear waters of Bellows AFB Beach, out about four feet deep and a little ways away from the ubiquitous body surfers and family throngs, a strange snub nosed fish came into my field of vision. It seemed odd to me because there wasn’t any other fish visible, just a large turtle casually swimming horizontal to the shore, the turtle was about 20 feet or more away from me. Being a total novice and just so enamoured with the beauty of the place, I didn’t think about being afraid, and I walked toward the strange fish creature that seemed to have a very short flat nose, like stub nosed. It appeared to me to be about three feet long, with a shiny almost reflective exterior that had dark blotches on its back near its dorsal fin, and a long narrow upper wards pointy tail. It seemed in no hurry to go anywhere but curiously swam horizontal to the beach, and I continued to walk toward it. Then suddenly, it saw me walking towards it, and it turned slightly towards the ocean and took off like a flash. I looked for it for a while but never saw it again. After returning to the cabin and describing the event to my husband, who is an experienced diver in these waters and retired military, he explained to me what I saw was most likely a young tiger shark. I am still enamoured with all things ocean… but I’ll be respectful and cautious next time.
Great story! Whenever I’m in very deep waters way off shore, I can’t shake the thought that I’m now part of the food chain, and it’s terrifying!
I swim, snorkel, free dive the reef system and beyond from north Kona to south Kohala coast, and 4 to 5 times a week – conditions permitting. Almost all of this ocean activity is done alone, which is the way I like it. I’ve been recording the impacts of reef beaching on the West Hawai’i marine ecosystem. My observation swims generally explore the health of the reef ecosystem and the outer reef wall facing the open ocean.
I wear a magnetic shark band on my leg, which so far, thankfully, has never been tested in a shark attack. I have swam with spotted rays, shark cousins, and when the rays get closer than 3 three feet they quickly turn take off, possibly sensing the magnetic field of the band. Not a scientific observation or an endorsement of the shark band, just an observation and conclusion. If rays don’t like the band, perhaps their shark cousins won’t either.
During the past five years I’ve encountered White Tip sharks (my favorite shark, which will generally leave you alone if you leave them alone) and occasionally Gray Reef sharks, but nothing life threatening like a Tiger or Great White. Hawaii’s Tiger sharks attack people for many reasons. Primarily, they have either decided humans in the water are a valid food source, or, is a potential food source, and give a little nip before deciding on the full meal deal. Tigers are human killers, and Hawaii’s Tigers don’t roam far from their home territory, as recent studies have revealed. The current state strategy for Tiger sharks is to observe, close beaches, and hope the aggressive Tigers won’t eat the locals and the tourists.
DLNR should re-introduce it previously successful Tiger shark culling program to reduce a specific shark population which continues to grow in Hawaiian waters along with attacks on humans. Hawaii’s ocean are a place of wonder, learning, and enjoyment, and should not be an environment filled with fear.
Mahalo for a great addition to this post!
Shark culling is unnecessary and cruel. Tiger sharks are an important part of our oceans and if we were to cull them into extinction or even extreme reduction of their population, the health of the ocean and the reefs would deteriorate to the point at which you wold be able to enjoy the ocean you say you do.
So you would want to kill off a species so you can enjoy being in the ocean without being afraid? The ocean is home to sharks that is their turf NOT humans, when you step into the water you’re entering their home and you should know the risk that comes with that and if that scares you then I would advise you not to go into the water at all. Sharks are a necessary part of the oceans ecosystem remember that next time you think such a cruel and ignorant thought.
Just had a scary experience off Honolua Beach on Maui. I was snorkelling out near the point, a long way from any other people (mistake). The water was quite turbid so I thought I’d go out deeper in case it was better out there. I was hearing a lot of car honking from shore and thought it was weird to be having a road rage incident at such a location. Then there was a lot of whistling so I stuck my head up and some people in the cliff top were crossing their arms over their heads in my direction. I didn’t know what that was about, but it didn’t seem like a good thing! Then a guy yelled, “Huge shark out there buddy!” So I high tailed it shore-wards. As I got out I saw the fin break the surface a few hundred feet away. From the cliff it looked a good 12 foot long, almost certainly a tiger.
Wow! You lucked out!
First, I live in KONA- Big island Hawaii and Love it!!!
I think any shark attack is one too many.
I grew up near the Atlantic ocean and they had under water fencing that sharks couldn’t get through. That was awesome.
But the Atlantic ocean isn’t anything like the Pacific ocean.
I do recall a report of several shark attacks one year due to several turtles.
I believe we should be educated in any place we go or any adventure.
I had an idea the information on sharks wasn’t going to be pleasant, after all, it’s their feeding place.
Thank you for all the helpful information.
I was talking to a guy who studies electromagnetic fields and sharks in Hawaii and he claims that the so called shark repellers actually lure sharks in closer….and then keep them at a safe distance (6 feet or so). ..as long as your battery stays charged. It’s also bringing them closer to those NOT wearing one. He highly recommended getting out of an area if you see someone wearing one.
Yes, sharks respond to electrical pulses. Same thing for the metal detectors in the water. Oh, and sharks will respond to any type of blood or urine. Don’t let any one tell you differently…..
This is the sanest, best presented article on sharks in Hawaii. What it discusses is thoroughly researched: it presents what has happened in Hawaii in encounters with sharks: how is that “not researched”? Ocean Ramsay is a youtube self-promoter who makes money misleading people about sharks. Actual shark scientists dismiss her (admittedly more politely than I do). Your terms: “a nibble” and “losing a limb”…As if that’s a minor thing? Are you serious? You actually state: “very rarely sharks finish the entire human”? Is that supposed to be reassuring? A shark being curious and taking a nibble and a limb: not cause for concern? Sharks are amazing animals, worth our respect, protection, and even adoration. AND FEAR. I usually do not respond in Comments sections, but this article is valuable for people living in or visiting Hawaii, and your comments and referral to Ocean Ramsay are ridiculous and I wanted to make that clear for people who come to this article and who want to decide on proper response to the dangers. Fact: sharks have attacked and killed people, and will continue to do so: what’s your problem?
When you enter the water, you enter the food chain.
And you are definitely not at the top of the food chain. That’s for sure
Your article was good, expect by the times that you sad sharks were maneaters. Im 15 years old and scuba dives and tiger, hammerheads, and bull sharks. Im still alive, have 20 fingers, 2 arms, and 2 legs
Love the personal testimony!
If you have 20 fingers then there must be something else in the water.
I think you need to update this article.
Sharks don’t just eat to eat, or eat humans. No. They take a nibble and you end up loosing a limb. Very rarely sharks finish the entire human.
When you are bleeding in the water, that is true but not when a female is on her menstrual cycle so please add that in there that women are safe to go swimming even if they are having Mother Nature down there….
Sharks are very intelligent. They are very curious as well. Granted they could and MIGHT come up to you to see what you’re all about but that’s about it.
I suggest you look into Ocean Ramsey. She’s very knowledgeable about sharks + how they “work” instead of trying to put fear into people.
She pets great whites as well as other species of shark so if you think sharks wanna eat humans, you are 100% wrong.
Have a nice day + please do more research, thanks.
I like your suggestions of how to avoid putting yourself in a dangerous situation. I’m confused by your list though. Your list makes it sound like people get attacked every day during those hours. It would be helpful if you either showed your spreadsheet or provided the range of years during which those attacks took place.
I’m glad to see that you noted there are only about 4 shark attacks a year in Hawaii. You might find this article from National Geographic interesting, too: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/06/predator-species-tiger-shark-ocean-ecology/
Just to clarify we have no Bull Sharks in Hawaii. We also would not count Great Whites except on a very rare occasion. They are only passing through and are not native. Tiger sharks are the main shark here and they are responsible for any attacks we have had here. But again the article says we have Bulls and Great Whites and that is simply not true.
Thanks Lehuna! I’ve also inserted some of your comments in the article body.
Aloha, Your story about the German tourist who lost her arm in an attack and subsequently died is incorrect regarding the location. She was bitten while snorkeling in turbid water at White Rock beach in Wailea. I think it’s important to keep your info accurate.
Thank you Cindi! We have updated the site.
Thanks for real information. In the water every day on vacation at Pebble Beach, South Kona and saw my first shark. Six foot gray reef. 50 yards out. Thankful he was after a big fish instead of me! Is it useful to report sightings? Others on the beach should be aware at the time but do sharks settle in ? Or do they move on ? Still going in, love the water.
It’s always a good idea to report shark sightings to lifeguards, though I don’t know if that beach has any present. Otherwise I would get a hold of the Dept of Parks & Rec for Hawaii County and let them know.
According to the so-called EXPERTS, there have ONLY been FIVE FATAL shark attacks in Hawaii since 1980. Here’s a list of those FIVE fatal attacks.
5/24/81 – Roger Garletts – Haena, Kauai – Scuba diving
4/15/87 – Daniel Kennedy – Kailua-Kona – swimming
1/8/89 – Ken Ahlstrand – Wailua, Kauai – swimming
10/14/89 – Ray Mehl – Kahe point, Oahu – scuba diving
2/17/90 – Roy Tanaka – Mokapu, Kaneohe Marine Base – scuba spearfishing
11/19/91 – Suk Kyu (Steve) Park – Maliko Point, Maui – washed into ocean while shore fishing
11/26/91 – Martha Morrell – Olowalu, Maui – swimming *
2/19/92 – Bryan Adona – Leftovers, near Waimea Bay, Oahu – body boarding
11/4/92 – Aaron Romento – Keaau Beach Park, Oahu – body boarding
12/1/93 – Daniel McMoyler – Waipio, Hawaii – surfing
1/31/94 – Jim Broach – Velzyland – surfing
3/18/1999 – Nahid Davoodabai – offshore south-east Maui – kayaking
4/4/04 – Courtney Marcher – Velzyland – surfing
4/7/04 – William McInnis – Kahana, Maui – surfing *
2/23/06 – Anthony Moore – Makena, Maui – free diving
8/30/08 – Kameron Brown – McKenzie Beach Park , Pahoa – cliff jumping / swimming
4/11/09 – Paolo Dominici – Kona – spearfishing
8/14/13 – Jana Lutteropp – Makena, Maui – snorkeling *
12/2/13 – Patrick Briney – offshore Makena, Maui – kayak fishing *
4/29/15 – Margaret Cruse – Kanahena cove / Ahihi, Makena, Maui – snorkeling *
9/17/15 – Loren “Jamie” Salis – Upolu Point – night spearfishing
There are actually a couple more but those circumstances are questionable. These are hardly.
* indicates fatal attack confirmed by so-called experts
Thanks for attempting to contribute to the site facts about shark attacks or deaths in Hawaii. Not sure which. Can you explain clearly what you’re saying with the above? Are these all fatalities as a result of shark attacks? Where did you find the information? Thanks!
I found your article very interesting, a fellow told me to always have a dive knife so if you see a shark you can stab your buddy and you can swim off.ha ha
hahaha – nice one.
“They know what humans look like….”
This is pure speculation. The idea that sharks “know” anything, is fairly specious. They are reactive hunters, and its safe to say that many attacks on humans (its impossible to know how many) were predatory attacks. Other attacks are an aggressive territorial behavior and some attacks are probative, curious, testing bites. In the case of White Sharks a territorial aggression attack is most likely to be fatal. Personally, I find it unlikely that sharks “know” what humans look like. To know what humans look like a shark would have to have some kind of cognitive organization that gave them a concept of human or not-human. Unlikely, although its believed that Great White sharks are the most intelligent fish species – though that wouldn’t require a high level of intelligence . Tiger sharks are almost pure instinct with almost no “thought” at all. “Dumb brutes”. Lets just say of predatory attacks, that sharks certainly “know” they are hunting for food. Since around 1% of shark attacks are fatal, we have to assume that, having bitten a human, 99% of attacking sharks “know” they didn’t prefer the experience,and most often leave without coming back for more.
Aloha! What an incredible article! My mom sent this to me as I am working on finishing my PhD in Media and Communication and my dissertation is about sharks, specifically sharks in relation to Maui. Long story short, it’s a media effects piece evaluating how realistic people’s fear or lack of fear of sharks is thanks to Jaws and Shark Week almost exclusively. I’m hoping to perform a long ethnography in Maui and interview different sets of the population and also include the history that Hawaiians have with sharks. I’d love to visit with you if possible and also see what updates you have regarding the remaining attacks of 2013 as well as 2014 and Dr. Meyer’s work tagging the tiger sharks off Maui.
Hi Desiree, glad you liked the sharks article. I loved it, personally! They’re fascinating creatures. I’ve caught them while fishing. I’ve had big fish chomped in half as I reeled them in. I’ve never seen a shark while surfing, snorkeling, or free-diving. I don’t live on Maui any longer! Good luck with your research! Aloha!
great site, great stories, and thanks for both!