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Shark Incidents Peak This Time of Year, Caution Advised

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

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 [1].  “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 [2].

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

4 Maui Shark Bite Incidents so far in 2016:

3 Maui Shark Bite Incidents in 2015:

5 Maui Shark Bite Incidents in 2014:

8 Maui Shark Bite Incidents in 2013: