Shark attacks are a rare yet genuine concern for those who enjoy swimming, snorkeling, surfing, and other water activities in Hawaii.
While the chances of being attacked by a shark are slim, how concerned should you be?
At the very least, it is important to be aware of the risks and take precautions to protect yourself while enjoying the beautiful waters of Hawaii. We are going to give you some ideas below on what to do. Sharks are back in the news after an unconfirmed attack this week on Maui with a missing snorkeler off Keawakapu Beach. The person was not found, and the rescue was called off.
Here’s what happened. A 60-year-old Washington state visitor and her husband were 225 feet off the beach at about noon when her husband reported sighting a large shark swimming in the water. He swam to shore and reported his wife had gone missing. US Coast Guard rescuers started looking for the woman with the help of Ocean Safety and the Maui Fire Department. The search continued for the remainder of Thursday and Friday. State DLNR confirmed that a 10-12 tiger shark was spotted in the area (they did not say by whom).
The identity of the woman and her husband have not been released, and shark warning signs have since been removed.
How frequent and deadly are Hawaii shark attacks?
According to the International Shark Attack File, the only scientifically documented, comprehensive database of all known shark attacks, including Hawaii, there have been a total of 152 shark attacks in Hawaii between 1828 and 2020, with a total of 17 fatalities. Most of these attacks have occurred on the islands of Oahu and Maui. However, shark attacks can occur at any beach in Hawaii, and it is important to be cautious no matter where you are.
Hawaii DLNR maintains a list of Hawaii shark incidents.
Several species of sharks can be found in Hawaiian waters, including tiger sharks, great white sharks, and hammerhead sharks. Tiger sharks are responsible for the majority of attacks in Hawaii and are known to be aggressive and curious omnivores. While the chances of being attacked by a shark in Hawaii are very low, it is nonetheless important to be aware of the risks and take steps to protect yourself and others while enjoying the beautiful waters of the islands.
To avoid Hawaii shark attacks, begin with some basic safety guidelines.
- First, avoid swimming or surfing near river mouths, as sharks are attracted to areas where there is an influx of nutrients from freshwater sources.
- Second, avoid swimming or surfing at dawn, dusk, or night, as these are the times when sharks are most active.
- Third, avoid wearing shiny jewelry or brightly colored clothing, as these can confuse and attract sharks.
- Finally, leave the water immediately if you see a shark (no problem!) and notify lifeguards or other authorities.
Shark bites in Hawaii.
There’s no aspect of shark behavior that is as interesting or terrifying as what DLNR calls “very rare occasions when sharks bite humans.” They add, “And when bites occur, they result in widespread attention, especially if injuries are serious or even fatal.”
Hawaii DLNR reminds us to keep these rare incidents in perspective since “The chances of being bitten by a shark are less than one in a million. The chances of being seriously injured by a shark are much less than that. But considering the tendency of some media to sensationalize sharks, and the fact that shark bites are such unusual events, it’s probably not surprising that when they occur, they often generate attention out of proportion to the risk itself.”
Tiger sharks in Hawaii and others.
Tiger sharks are most often responsible for Hawaii shark incidents which result in serious injury or death. They are considered one of the world’s three most dangerous sharks. Tiger sharks are of concern due to their size and the fact that they will eat almost anything. They’re open to eating things at the surface of the ocean. Some bites result from a shark determining if the object is food.
The others are white sharks, rarely found in Hawaii, and bull sharks, never found here.
Shark behavior remains minimally understood.
Studies about Hawaii shark behavior and attacks on humans continue, largely in conjunction with the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) at the University of Florida. Hawaii gathers information on shark incidents, which is submitted to ISAF for use in their database.
Should you fear shark attacks here in Hawaii? It’s unlikely you will experience a shark attack on your Hawaii vacation; the statistical odds are 1 in 11.5 million. And, while rare at Hawaii Beaches, it’s good to remember that shark sightings can occur anywhere in Hawaii.
There are nearly 40 species of sharks found in Hawaii, with a smaller group common near shore. The sharks that most people encounter are reef, sandbar, hammerhead, and tiger.
Follow Hawaii tiger sharks online.
UH Manoa marine biologists continue to track the movement of tiger sharks fitted with satellite transponders mounted on their dorsal fins. They seek better insights into tiger shark behavior and the habitat of these largely revered creatures. This video describes that work.
Sharks’ critical role in Hawaii.
Sharks are apex predators, and 1/3 of the species are in danger. Sharks have a critically important role in maintaining species under them in the ocean food chain and removing the sick and weak while helping balance diversity. Their presence is indicative of the health of our marine environment.
Native Hawaiians have highly revered sharks as family guardians (aumakua). These are considered ancestors who have been reincarnated as animal protectors of the family.
Photo credit: Mark Royer.