Shark Incidents Peak This Time of Year, Caution Advised

October 3, 2016, 1:39 PM HST · Updated October 3, 3:08 PM
Wendy Osher · 21 Comments
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Background shark image: sighting, Mokapu Beach, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, credit Robert Raimo. Overlay images: Wendy Osher.

Background shark image: sighting, Mokapu Beach, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, credit Robert Raimo. Overlay images: Wendy Osher.

“Pua ka wiliwili, nanahu ka manō. (When the wiliwili tree blooms the shark bites)” – ‘Ōlelo No‘eau *Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings, Mary Kawena Pukui, 1983

Officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources say that for centuries, traditional Hawaiian chants have warned about an increased risk of shark bites in the fall, when the wiliwili tree blooms.

Today, that warning is still appropriate, according to Division of Aquatic Resources administrators.

“October is the month with the greatest number of shark bites,” said DAR Administrator Bruce Anderson.  “We recommend ocean users exercise a little more caution this month especially, and also through the end of the year.  The chance of being bitten by a shark in Hawaiian waters is always extremely small, but does increase a bit during this time frame.”

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This graphic depicts only confirmed unprovoked incidents, defined by the International Shark Attack File as “incidents where an attack on a live human by a shark occurs in its natural habitat without human provocation of the shark. Incidents involving…shark-inflicted scavenge damage to already dead humans (most often drowning victims), attacks on boats, and provoked incidents occurring in or out of the water are not considered unprovoked attacks.” Image source: Courtesy of Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources

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According to DAR data, for the 35 year period ending in 2015, there were 122 unprovoked shark bites in Hawaiian waters, 21% of them or 26 incidents occurring in the month of October.  DLNR authorities note that none of the documented October bite incidents included in the data were fatal.

The DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources, compiled shark bite data for the period between 1980-2015, by month.  This included: 7 incidents in the month of January; 5 incidents in February, plus one fatal; 12 incidents in March; 10 incidents in April, plus two fatal; 6 incidents in May; 11 incidents in June; 8 incidents in July, plus one fatal; 9 incidents in August, plus one fatal; 4 incidents in September; 26 incidents in October; 14 incidents in November, plus two fatal; and 10 incidents in December, plus one fatal.

In recent years, there were two bites in October of 2012; three bites in October 2013; four bites in October 2014; and three bites in October 2015.

DAR’s Anderson noted, “The three bites last October were all around O‘ahu, off different coasts of the island, and took place over a span of 20 days.  Two were very serious, with victims losing part of a limb. It was an unprecedented spike, but like nearly every spike in shark incidents, the most likely explanation is just chance.”

University of Hawai‘i researchers, funded in part by DAR, have confirmed the fall spike, and offered a partial possible explanation.  “About 25% of the female tiger sharks in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands migrate to the main islands in the fall to give birth.  The increased number of sharks in near shore waters, combined with their need to feed to replenish lost energy stores, may increase the likelihood of a bad encounter with a human,” DLNR officials noted.

Anderson offers the following advice, “The best thing ocean users can do to minimize their risk of shark bites is to utilize beaches with lifeguards, stay near other people, and don’t go too far from shore.  Also, avoid murky water and areas near stream mouths.”  More safety tips can be found at the Division’s shark web site,   hawaiisharks.org.

Below is a list of the most recent shark bite incidents off of Maui:

4 Maui Shark Bite Incidents so far in 2016:

  • August 6, 2016, 4:30 p.m.: Maui stand-up paddleboarder, Connor Baxter was using a SUP hydrofoil when the long foil attached to his SUP board was bit by a tiger shark, estimated to be 10 feet long.  The incident was reported in the Hamakuapoko area of Pā‘ia, about one mile from shore.  DLNR officials say the incident occurred in 40-50 feet of water that was described as being turbid.
  • May 3, 2016, 3:50 p.m.: A 59-year-old man suffered minor lacerations to his right shoulder while floating in waters off of Wailea Beach about 40 yards from shore in 15-20 feet of turbid water.  The species and length of the shark is unknown.
  • March 31, 2016, 11 a.m.: A 46-year old female visitor was snorkeling with a commercial tour when a shark bit her snorkel fin.  The incident occurred in Olowalu, approximately 400-450 yards from shore in 15-20 feet of turbid water. (J. Orr).  Authorities say the woman sustained a minor laceration to left foot. The shark was described as a tiger shark, measuring approximately 8 feet long.
  • Jan. 23, 2016, 10:30 a.m.: Wailea Beach Point, 150-200 yards from shore. A 10-12 foot shark bit the tail of a paddleboard being operated by a stand-up paddleboarder in 30 feet of water during clear conditions.  The shark was a 10-12 foot Tiger shark.

3 Maui Shark Bite Incidents in 2015:

  • Oct. 31, 2015, 3:30 p.m.: Lāna‘i, Po‘aīwa Beach, approx 300 yards from shore Spearfishing Turbid est 25 ft Confidential. No injury; shark bit weight belt. Considered a provoked incident due to activity.  Tiger shark, length 10-12 feet.
  • April 29, 2015, est. 8:30 a.m. ʻĀhihi Kīnaʻu Bay, Kanahena Point, approx 200 yards from shore Snorkeling Turbid 20-35 ft M. Cruse. Fatal. Severe deep lacerations to right shoulder and underarm; minor lacerations to right arm and right side of face. Species and length unknown.
  • Jan. 27, 2015, 3:30 a.m.: Maui, Pali scenic lookout Fishing Turbid on shore M. Pollard. Lacerations to left calf. Considered a provoked incident due to activity. Reef shark, species unknown, length 4 feet.

5 Maui Shark Bite Incidents in 2014:

  • Nov. 13, 2014: A 50 year old Homer, Alaska man, snorkeling in the ocean off ofKahekili “Airport” Beach in the Kāʻanapali area of West Maui, reported being bitten by a shark at around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014.
  • Oct. 22, 2014: A Kīhei woman who was standup paddle boarding approximately 200 yards offshore in 6 feet of water at Waipuʻilani Beach Park reported that a tiger shark knocked her into the water and bit the tail portion of her board.
  • Oct. 20, 2014: a 58-year-old man was stand up paddle boarding at Kahului Harbor when a shark reportedly bit the man’s board.
  • Oct. 18, 2014: a surfer fended off a shark attack at Māʻalaea.  In that incident, park officials say a 12 to 14 foot shark bit the man’s board.
  • July 16, 2014: 5:20 p.m. at Pāʻia Bay, 200-250 yards from shore in 15 to 20 feet of water.  A swimmer reported being bitten by a 6 to 7 foot reef shark and sustained lacerations to his left foot.

8 Maui Shark Bite Incidents in 2013:

  • Dec. 2, 2013: 10:20 a.m. in Mākena, approximately 900 yards from shore in about 100 feet of water.  A man who was fishing from a kayak died after sustaining a severe deep laceration and loss of tissue on right calf.  State officials say they consider the encounter a provoked incident due to activity.  The species and length of the shark is unknown.
  • Nov. 29, 2013: 1 p.m. in Kīhei at Keawakapu, approximately 30-40 yards from shore in 10 to 15 feet of water.  A snorkeler sustained a severe laceration to their right inner calf, as well as minor lacerations and puncture wounds to the right shin and ankle.  State officials say the species and length of the shark is unknown.
  • October 31, 2013, at Ka’a Point in Central Maui: A kite surfer suffered injuries to his right leg and calf in an apparent shark attack incident about 300 yards offshore.
  • October 23, 2013, off of Kukona Place in Waiehu: Shane Mills of Maui suffered a laceration to his lower back and left thigh in an apparent shark bite incident.
  • August 14, 2013, at Palauea Beach, also known as White Rock in Māken: Jana Lutteropp, a 20-year-old German woman had her arm severed in a shark attack incident and died a week later on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
  • July 31, 2013, at Ulua Beach in Wailea: Evonne Cashman of California suffered puncture wounds to both surfaces of right side of torso and lacerations to right hand while swimming approximately 125 yards from shore.
  • April 2, 2013, 8:20 a.m. at Kā’anapali, Honokōwai: A surfer reportedly suffered lacerations to their right leg after an encounter with a reef shark approx 100 yards from shore in six feet of water, according to state data.
  • February 21, 2013, at Pāʻia Bay: A reef shark reportedly bit the rail of a foam surfboard while J. Lansky was surfing approximately 75 yards from shore in 5 to 8 feet of water, according to the state data.
  • The Hawaii Sharks website is used to document confirmed shark encounters, and “does not include encounters in which a shark does not actually bite a person or board, nor incidents classified by the International Shark Attack File as boat attacks, scavenge, or doubtful.”
  • *Supporting information courtesy: State Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served nearly 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.

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