Maui News

Fisherman Encounters Great White in West Maui

March 15, 2017, 5:07 PM HST
* Updated March 16, 8:21 AM
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A Maui fisherman encountered a great white shark over the weekend near Ukumehame Beach Park in West Maui.

Leo Pagaduan told Hawaiʻi News Now that he was fishing for opelu around 8 a.m. on Saturday, March 11, when he heard something behind his kayak. Once he noticed the shark circling him, he took out his GoPro and began recording the hour long encounter.

He told Hawaiʻi News Now, that sometimes even when you think it’s not there anymore, it suddenly shows up, “not even five minutes and she show(s) up again.”

According to the account, Pagaduan said the great white was about the length of his 12-foot kayak.


Great whites can grow up to 20 feet in length and typically aren’t found in Hawaiian waters.


Department of Land and Natural Resources aquatic biologist Skippy Hau told us that great white sightings in Hawaiʻi are extremely rare; however, encounters with great whites have been documented and recorded in Hawaiʻi in recent years.

A 2013 study compiled all records of great white shark sightings around Hawaiʻi and found there has only been 13 great whites observed in the Hawaiian Archipelago since 1926, when including all published reports of satellite-tracked sharks that reached the region, a total of 22 great whites have visited Hawaiian waters.

The authors of the study point out that there have been cases of great white sightings other than the 13 reported on; however there is not enough evidence in some cases to prove it was a white shark.


Pagaduan’s sighting and video makes his encounter an extremely rare moment in Hawaiʻi shark history.

NOAA shark expert, Melanie Hutchinson told KITV news earlier today that it was indeed a great white shark in his video.

Based on Hawaiian knowledge and artifacts predating European contact, the study adds that white sharks have been known to be in Hawaiʻi since the time of ancient Hawaiians.

Modern records of great white sharks “date back to May 1926, when the remains of a man who apparently drowned in waters of Haleʻiwa, Oʻahu, were recovered 16 days later in the stomach of a large shark landed” nearby, the authors wrote.

The 13 great whites observed in the study include:

May 1, 2011 – between Molokaʻi and Maui – “As part of a project monitoring bottom fish populations, a remotely operated stereo video camera system was deployed on the bottom of the Pailolo Channel between Molokaʻi and Maui at a depth of 764 feet. The system recorded a white shark, which was estimated to be about 11-feet long by Virginia Moriwake using stereo video calculations.”

Jan 29, 2006 – Mahukona, Hawaiʻi – “A whale monitoring boat was operating west of Mahukona. A large shark approached the boat and underwater photographs where taken that identified it as a female white shark of approximately 14-feet total length.”

Dec 28, 2005 – Near Haleʻiwa, Oʻahu – Jimmy Hall of Hawaiʻi Shark Encounters captured video footage of his swim with an 18- to 20-foot female white shark, the first time a great white appeared since his involvement in the shark diving business.

Jan 4, 2005 – Molokini, Maui – Divers at Molokini photographed a large shark at a depth of about 40 feet. “It had a distinctly lamnid body shape and was identified as a white shark from the photographs, based on the short conical snout and broad dorsal fin.”

Oct 4, 2004 – Makapuʻu, Oʻahu – A female white shark was observed at a depth of 1,400-feet, the shark was estimated to be about 13 feet total length.

Oct 28, 2002 – Penguin Bank, Molokaʻi – “Researchers in the Hawaiʻi Undersea Research Lab submersible Pisces IV, observed a shark at Penguin Bank, Molokaʻi, at a depth of about 1,100 feet. They observed a shark with a conical snout, a dark grey upper surface with a sharp, blotchy line demarcating the transition to a white ventral surface and identified the individual as a white shark.”

May 3, 1969 – Kawaihae Bay, Hawaiʻi

Mar 8, 1969 – Makaha, Oʻahu – “A shark damaged a surfboard and inflicted a 5-inch laceration to the right leg of a 16-yr-old male surfer at Makaha, O‘ahu. The incident occurred about 100 yards from shore. A dead whale had recently been removed from the beach. In a report to the International Shark Attack File (George Burgess, personal communication), then housed at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, FL, University of Hawaiʻi graduate student Richard Wass identified the species as a great white, based on the victim’s description of a uniform black dorsal coloration and tooth impressions left in the surfboard. The impressions were described as symmetrically triangular in shape, about 2 cm deep, with both jaws similar to each other. Based on a bite width of 24 cm, Wass estimated the length of the shark at 9 ft. In a letter accompanying the report, Albert Tester, then Senior Professor of Zoology at the University of Hawaiʻi, concurred with Wass’ identification, but did not comment on the length estimate.”

Jan 20, 1966 – Kawaihae Bay, Hawaiʻi – “In the late 1960s the Oceanic Institute (Waimanalo, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i) operated a shark culling program at Kawaihai Bay on the Big Island. The program reported the capture of three white sharks, but did not record size, sex or other details.”

Mar 8, 1961 – One mile outside Honolulu Harbor – “A 13-foot white shark was captured by a commercial fisherman off Honolulu and brought back to the Honolulu Marineland at Kewalo basin, where it lived for two days.”

Mar 6, 1960 – Windward Oʻahu – “The second white shark caught during the Billy Weaver program was a 10 ft 10 in female. It was caught on a line set at a depth of 23-30 feet off Mokoli‘i (Chinaman’s Hat) to Pyramid Rock.”

Dec 7, 1959 – Kahuku-Waialee, Oʻahu – “In response to a December 13, 1958 fatal attack on Billy Weaver off Lanikai, O‘ahu the State of Hawai‘i conducted the Billy Weaver Shark Research and Control Program, which operated from 1959-1960. Two white sharks were caught off Windward O‘ahu during the program. The first was a 3.5 m male caught 7 December 1959 on a line set at depth 44-47 m off Kahuku to Waiale.

May 18, 1926 – Kahuku, Oʻahu – “A white shark was caught just offshore of Kahuku. The shark had been hooked by its tail to a long line set for ulua the night before, and was so exhausted that it was easily landed. Upon being cut open, the stomach was observed to contain “the skull and bones of both arms, one hand and one leg besides a quantity of black hair about three inches in length…together with a pair of bathing trunks. The trunks appeared to be Army issue, and the remains were identified the following day as belonging to an Army private who had drowned at Haleʻiwa on May 18. The shortest distance from Haleʻiwa to Kahuku along the coast is approximately 15 miles.”

The last reported sighting of a great white was off the Kona coast on March 17, 2012 when a 16-foot shark was seen in about 20-feet of water, 100 yards from shore. Three skin divers reported seeing the shark swimming near Kohanaiki, however, fire personnel aboard a county helicopter were unable to locate the shark and therefore were unable to confirm if it was a great white.

Prior to that, a video went viral when two fishermen spotted what was believed to be a 15-foot great white in January 2012 off of Yokohama Beach on Oʻahu, the 2013 study found that it was a Mako shark in the video, not a great white. After watching the video, the authors of the study concluded, “the base of the first dorsal fin is behind the trailing rear tip of the pectoral fin (not in line), a character of mako sharks.”

The study mentioned that there were three reported sightings of white sharks off Ni‘ihau during the summers of 1995, 1997, and 1999, one off Ma‘ili, O‘ahu in August 1999, and one off Makua and Keawa‘ula, O‘ahu in July and August 2001. However, since the study could not confirm the sightings, they were not included. The authors of the study suggest that some of the sightings could have been mako sharks, which have a similar body form to white sharks.

There was also three incidents that were reported to the International Shark Attack File involving large sharks, which may have been white sharks, that were also mentioned in the study however, evidence was inadequate to positively identify them. The three incidents were reported in the media. “In each case, there was some discrepancy between descriptions provided by witnesses, and speculation as to the species by media sources,” the authors of the study concluded as to why they were not included in their research.

“On March 5, 1999 a female swimmer approximately 980-feet off the coast of Kāʻanapali was severely bitten in the right leg, suffering significant tissue loss.”

“On June 24, 2003 a male snorkeler watching a pod of dolphins was about 245 feet offshore of Makua, O‘ahu when the dolphins suddenly swam away at a high speed. The victim felt a tug on his foot, and looked down to see a large shark. The injury was relatively minor.”

“On Feb. 1, 2006, two kayakers were observing a pod of humpback whales about a mile off Mākena, Maui, when one of the kayaks was bumped by a large shark, length estimated at 16 feet.”

Hawaiʻi has 40 different species of sharks, with the tiger shark making its presence most known around the islands.

Experts don’t know why the great white sharks come here; however, scientists and researchers, including DLNR Maui aquatic biologist Hau suggest it could be in relation to the winter whale migration.

“Calves are being born here, and they are weak and the after birth (scent), they (sharks) could be targeting that,” Hau said. Although there isn’t research yet to support the migration of whales with great white sharks in Hawaiʻi it could be the calves that are being the prey he added.

**Research Article
Occurrence of White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) in Hawaiian Waters
Kevin Weng and Randy Honebrink
1Pelagic Fisheries Research Program, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 
2Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources
Received 27 August 2012; Revised 6 March 2013; Accepted 7 March 2013
Copyright © 2013 Kevin Weng and Randy Honebrink

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