Maui Mayor Discusses Shark Repellent, Avoidance
By Wendy Osher
After a total of eight shark incidents in Maui waters this year, two of them fatal, Mayor Alan Arakawa shared with us his thoughts about mitigation and ocean safety.
In an exclusive interview this week, Arakawa said it’s difficult to create rules and regulations when shark movement and how they react to people has varied.
“There’s very little that we can do as a county, as a government entity. The sharks live in the water,” said Arakawa.
When venturing into the water, Arakawa identified different practices that ocean users could take into consideration as a safety precaution. “You should definitely not be swimming great distances away from everyone else by yourself; and you should definitely not be trying to attract the fish and sharks to your body… There are other precautions that you can take in just using common sense.”
“If the water looks really murky and bad, don’t go in there. If you’re going to go surfing, don’t dangle your limbs in the water so much, especially if you’re doing paddle boarding and kayaking. Other than that, just try to be careful and observant of what’s around you,” he said.
“If you see a shark in the water, have some respect for it.”
In the latest incident, 57-year-old Patrick Briney suffered fatal injuries when his dangling foot was bitten by a shark while he was kayak fishing in waters off of Mākena on Dec. 2.
The mayor called both incidents “unfortunate,” and expressed sadness for both victims.
In an effort to further educate the public about the ocean safety, the mayor’s office is working in coordination with the county Parks Department and state Department of Land and Natural Resources to identify locations to post a list of Swim Safe Shark Tips.
County Communications Director Rod Antone said the list is still in its draft form and is currently a work in progress, but said plans are to have the information available near lifeguard towers, and possibly pass them out to ocean activity shops and the visitor and hotel industry.
Aside from ocean safety tips, other mitigation measures that have surfaced for discussion in the community over the past few months have included shark hunting, installation of shark nets, and the use of shark repellent or shark reflection sound wave systems.
In an earlier interview conducted in August, Arakawa told Maui Now that he does not personally like the idea of hunting sharks or setting up barrier fences off-shore.
He further elaborated on the notion this week saying, “We also have a challenge in that some in the Hawaiian community use sharks as an ʻaumākua, as a religious symbol; so we cannot just go out and destroy sharks at random because we would be violating Hawaiian cultural practice.”
As for shark reflection systems, the mayor said, “There are some companies now that are putting in shark reflection types of systems — this could be everything from a shark repellent to an automated vibration system or sound wave system.”
He continued saying, “We could recommend that if you can afford one — some of them are going for $300-$400 — this is a good way to be able to get sharks not to be in your vicinity,” but he cautioned that even repellents may not be fool-proof.
“Most of the time, the sharks have more or less bitten, tasted, and then left,” said Mayor Arakawa, saying it’s difficult to stem a curious bite.
“Right now it seems they are more curious than anything else. Trying to get sharks to not do that is almost impossible from a government standpoint. You just have to be cautious,” he said.
County officials note that besides staying out of the water, there is no “foolproof” way to avoid a chance encounter with a shark.
A new list of “Swim Safe” shark tips produced by the County of Maui in coordination with the state to help people reduce their risk includes the following:
- Swim at lifeguard-monitored beaches, and follow their advice and any posted warning signs.
- Swim/surf/dive with a buddy or in a group.
- Stay close to shore if you are inexperienced or unfamiliar with the area.
- Leave the water if fish or turtles start to behave erratically, and avoid swimming near dolphins as they are prey for some large sharks.
- Remove any speared fish from the water or tow the fish a safe distance behind you to avoid the presence of blood near you in the water.
- Leave the water quickly and calmly if a shark is sighted; if you see a shark, alert lifeguards or other swimmers immediately.
- Keep pets out of the water as their erratic movement can attract sharks.
- Be aware that using bait to lure fish may also attract sharks.
- Don’t enter the water if you have any open wounds or are bleeding in any way, including females on their monthly period. Sharks can detect blood and body fluids in extremely small concentrations.
- Don’t enter the water if it is murky, cloudy, polluted from run-off or has poor visibility for any reason. Sharks can easily mistake humans as prey when conditions are bad.
- Don’t enter the water at dawn, dusk and at night, when some species of sharks may move closer to land to feed. However, keep in mind that sharks, especially tiger sharks, have been known to bite people at any time of day or night.
- Don’t swim/surf/dive near harbor entrances, river mouths and channels, especially after heavy rains. These types of waters are known to be frequented by sharks.
- Don’t wear high-contrast swimwear or shiny jewelry. Sharks can see contrast well.
- Don’t splash or splash excessively.
- Don’t swim near people fishing or spear fishing.
- Don’t provoke or harass a shark, even a small one.