Usually, while highly newsworthy, fascinating, and sometimes tragic, a shark attack doesn’t draw the endless number of articles this one has, and with this degree of intrigue. There have literally been hundreds of articles, if not more.
The tragedy began when a 60-year-old Washington state visitor and her husband were snorkeling, albeit reportedly not together. They were some 150 or more feet from the beach at midday; her husband reported he thought she might have been snorkeling at the ocean floor. He later reported her missing after seeing a large shark swimming in the water.
As reported initially, he swam to shore and reported her missing.
Rescuers, including US Coast Guard, Ocean Safety, and the Maui Fire Department, began searching for his wife. That continued through the following day when the search was called off, and the beach shark warning signs were removed. The woman’s identity and her husbands were not initially released. Since then, she has been identified as Kristine Allen of Bellingham, WA, who wrote sadly that she was “following dreams” here in Hawaii, including learning to surf.
DLNR first said it was a “Possible shark-human encounter.”
Hawaii state DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) spokesman Dan Dennison initially referred to the event as a “possible shark-human encounter” at a news briefing held on December 9. How it was described helped open the door to speculative questions. We remembered hearing that ourselves and were naturally left wondering at the time.
Enters mainstream media shark story-feeding frenzy.
Media outlets, USAToday among them, can’t stop writing about the story, and it gets even weirder than that.
State DLNR, itself controversial, has gone public in blaming unnamed social media for twisting the story, which we’d say is instead at least partly due to incomplete and oddly stated information from them.
“Officers interviewed the missing woman’s husband, who said he encountered an ‘aggressive’ shark shortly after entering the water to snorkel about 50-yards off-shore.” The man reported that as the shark continued to circle him, he continued looking for his wife and thought she might have been diving toward the ocean floor.
DLNR said the man told officers he kept looking for his wife when she disappeared, and he was subsequently able to get out of the water. He said he “did spot something in the distance.” It is also reported that when the shark was next spotted, there was “something red around the shark’s gills.” The official report said the husband’s information was the same as an eyewitness on the beach who said “he saw a large shark feeding on something in the water” and also said he saw a “red cloud in the water.”
DLNR has since concluded that it was what they’ve called “a tragic accident.”
No remains were recovered.
DLNR, itself again largely responsible for the misinformation about the incident, said, “misinformation which spread quickly on social media platforms, suggesting that this was something other than what it was. DLNR is asking people who post misinformation and conspiracy theories anonymously to stop and think about how they’d react if they were in the same situation. Social media can either be a powerful tool for sharing information or a mouthpiece for tremendously hurtful and inaccurate comments directed toward people who are dealing with a tragedy.”
What’s wrong with DLNR’s scolding?
Essentially, their information in the initial reporting was at the root of people wondering what might have happened. The report wasn’t well done and left unclear thoughts in readers’ minds about what took place. People were honestly curious, as we were, about the incident, and some started writing about it. The actual circumstances of the incident, and the determination of cause weren’t clarified for seven more days.
DLNR, never one to take responsibility, seemed to imply that their reporting can never be questioned.
Being devoured entirely is extremely rare.
First, shark attacks on humans are quite rare by any measure. Also, sharks generally don’t consume humans. Then the fact that there may have been simply no sign of her, making it appear that she was eaten in her entirely, made it even a more rare event that people would naturally want to learn about.
Subsequently, one media outlet reported that a snorkel set and a portion of a swimsuit were found, but that has not been confirmed.
Even DLNR says shark bites themselves are “very rare.”
DLNR said that it is on “very rare occasions when sharks bite humans. And when bites occur, they result in widespread attention, especially if injuries are serious or even fatal.” DLNR also said that “The chances of being bitten by a shark are less than one in a million.” Life-threatening injuries or death are far more rare.
17 deaths and 152 Hawaii shark attacks in nearly 200 years.
That is based on information from the International Shark Attack File, the global database of all known shark attacks.
Hawaii’s sharks include tiger, great white, and hammerhead sharks. Tiger sharks are responsible for most Hawaii shark attacks and can be curious and aggressive while being less discerning about prey.
Our thoughts are with the deceased and her family.