UPDATE: ‘Āhihi-Kīna‘u CLOSED Again, 10-Foot Tiger Shark Sighted

April 10, 2018, 10:43 AM HST · Updated April 10, 1:48 PM
Wendy Osher · 0 Comments
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Background image: ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu Natural Area Reserve. PC: Hawaiʻi DLNR. Foreground graphics: Maui Now.

Update: The ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu Natural Area Reserve is officially closed again as of 1:19 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.  Maui Now has confirmed with state officials that a 10-foot Tiger shark was sighted at 11 a.m. today, and was still seen at 1 p.m.   Mākena lifeguards helped clear the water, and no injuries were reported.  They also confirmed the presence of a shark.  The public is advised that sharks can come and go anytime and people should be aware, and ask questions of ocean safety personnel, parks staff or personnel from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement.  

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ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu Natural Area Reserve along Maui’s south shore re-opened at 1 p.m. on Monday, April 9, 2018 after being closed since March 28th due to “multiple large sharks” which were seen continuously swimming close to shore, DLNR officials confirmed with Maui Now.  The initial closure was implemented after numerous shark sightings, including tiger sharks.

“Staff and volunteers searched from shore every two hours each day during the closure to determine if the large sharks were still present, but they kept returning to ʻĀhihi Bay during the closed days,” said Dan Dennison, Senior Communications Manager with the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

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Carl Meyer of the University of Hawaiʻi reportedly told the DLNR Division of Aquatic  Resources that he thinks tiger sharks are following pupping black tip reef sharks inside the breakers. During a recent count, there were seven blacktop frequenting the shallow waters, but no tiger sharks were spotted.

During the closure, the parking lot for the ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu Natural Area Reserve was closed to the public. The road into the reserve was closed for part of last week as Maui Electric conducted upgrades to power lines in the area.

Three years ago, on April 29, 2015, a fatal shark encounter was reported at ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu in the area of Kanahena Point.  The incident involved a Kīhei woman who was snorkeling approximately 200 yards from shore in 20-35 feet of water when she sustained fatal injuries from a shark bite.

So far in 2018, there has been only one confirmed shark incident documented by DLNR in all of the Hawaiian Islands. The incident occurred on March 31, 2018 at Kūki‘o Beach in North Kona on Hawai‘i Island when a stand-up paddle boarder was bitten by a 12-foot shark.  The individual sustained severe lacerations to their right forearm and hand, and lost their right leg below knee as a result of the incident, according to information compiled by the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources.

Study Published on Shark Behavior and Habitat:

The nearly two week closure of the reserve this year comes as a new study was released detailing shark behavior and habitat in Hawaiian waters.

Researchers from the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology recently published an article in Nature Scientific Reports entitled: Habitat geography around Hawaiʻi’s oceanic islands influences tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) spatial behaviour and shark bite risk at ocean recreation sites.” 

According to the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System or PacIOOS, the team of researchers used satellite and acoustic tags to track 41 tiger sharks off Maui and Oʻahu “in an attempt to better understand tiger shark movement and habitat use patterns.”  Shark tracks related to the study are available online for public viewing.

Study findings revealed that tiger sharks prefer “insular shelf habitat,” which extends from the shoreline up to a depth of 600 feet.  The report states that:

Overall, our results suggest the extensive insular shelf surrounding Maui supports a fairly resident population of tiger sharks and also attracts visiting tiger sharks from elsewhere in Hawaiʻi. Collectively these natural, habitat-driven spatial patterns may in-part explain why Maui has historically had more shark bites than other Hawaiian Islands.”

The study was prompted by a spike in the number of shark bite incidents off Maui which peaked at eight incidents in 2013, five in 2014, three in 2015, and spiked again to seven incidents in 2016 before dropping to a single documented encounter (in which a snorkeler was “bumped” by a shark) off Maui in 2017.

While there were no shark bites were in 2017, there were some close calls.

The single documented incident occurred on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017 when a 40-year-old female visitor from Canada was snorkeling about 10 yards off of the point between Kama‘ole II and Kama‘ole III when she was “bumped” by what is described as an 8-foot grey shark. The woman suffered minor abrasions to her left thigh and left arm and declined medical treatment.

Another close encounter occurred on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, at Mākena State Park, when a man and woman spearfishing about 100 yards from shore on the north end of “Big Beach” were approached by an 8- to 10-foot Galapagos shark displaying “aggressive behavior.” The shark circled the freedivers and their dive float, and eventually took their catch of fish. There were no injuries reported, and the beach was closed for two hours.

Another incident was reported on Sept. 21, 2017 after an aggressive shark stole the fish catch of two men spearfishing offshore. The fisherman in that incident said they believed the shark to be a seven-foot Galapagos shark.

For centuries, traditional Hawaiian chants have warned about an increased risk of shark bites in the fall.

Below is a list of reported shark bite incidents off of Maui since 2013:

1 Maui Incident in 2017:

Oct. 5, 2017: A 40-year-old female visitor from Canada was snorkeling about 10 yards off of the point between Kama‘ole II and Kama‘ole III when she was “bumped” by what is described as an 8-foot grey shark. The woman suffered minor abrasions to her left thigh and left arm and declined medical treatment.

7 Maui Shark Bite Incidents in 2016:

Nov. 14, 2016, 10 a.m.: While treading water, a swimmer received multiple lacerations to right leg from a 15-foot-long unknown species of shark in clear water 30 yard offshore Kama‘ole Beach Park i in Kīhei.

Oct. 21, 2016, 4:50 p.m.: A surfer suffered lacerations to left arm, hand and leg from an unknown species of shark in 6–8-foot deep water 100 yards from shore at Ho‘okipa Beach Park, Pā‘ia.

Oct. 14, 2016, 9:50 a.m.: A swimmer received severe, deep lacerations to lower left leg, minor lacerations to left foot from a 7-foot-long shark of undetermined species at Kama‘ole Beach Park I in Kīhei, 40–60 yards off shore.

Aug. 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 of Kahekili “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.

Oct. 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.

Oct. 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.

Aug. 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.

Feb. 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 Hawaiʻi 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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