Shark Attacks in Hawaii


You don’t want to hear someone yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater and you sure as hell don’t want to hear the scream of “Shark!” at a  beach. Neither event is likely, but the thought of a shark in the water while snorkeling is a lot freakier than thinking of flames at the movies.

The odds of a shark bite in Hawaii are nearly a million to one, and  dying from said bite happens in one in a hundred bites. Florida and Australia have five to six times more attacks. Still, a visitor did die this year in the Islands, bringing the total deaths since the 1800s to 23. You are way more likely to choke on a steak.

Still … the odds of being a shark’s snack increase greatly when you enter the warm Hawaiian waters where some three dozen species live. Only eight of these fish are normally seen near shore, most often the smaller Blacktip Reef Shark. Called “mano” in Hawaiian lore, sharks–and the aggressive Tiger Sharks in particular–were part of the test for young warriors, like Kamehameha, who had to jump from an outrigger canoe and wrestle one.  Great White Sharks, the so-called maneaters, have been sighted fewer than ten times in the last 60 years, although recent satellite-aided studies show the Whites regularly migrate to Hawaii.

Here’s how to reduce to practically zero your chances of being bitten:

1. Avoid swimming at dawn and dusk, when water visibility is poor. Sharks bite people by accident (ooops), and can’t see as well at these times of day.

2. Avoid murky water; see above.

3. Don’t swim at a river or stream mouth, which deposits shark food into the ocean.

4. Take off the shiny watch and bling, which are thought to attract sharks. Same goes for bright contrasting swimwear.

5. Don’t bleed into the water.

6. Try not to splash the surface too often.

7.  Don’t swim when sharks are present and do not harass a shark. As if.

8. Hawaiian legend says that the shark gods bite when the Wiliwili trees bloom, which is in late summer and early fall. Scientist today think this is linked with the migratory pattern of Tiger sharks, which show up in the Islands as part of their 1,600-mile loop around the Hawaiian Archipelago.

9. History says, “Swim on the Big Island of Hawaii,” which has only a few reported attacks. Maui “wins” with 42 attacks, followed by Oahu wih 35, and Kauai with 23—though Kauai’s lower visitor rate and population make it riskier than Oahu. But in the last few years, the Big Island has become has seen a dramatic relative uptick in incidents. Attacks occur on all shores of the islands—not at particular hot spots.

10. Swim closer to shore. Most bites are 50 yards out or more.

The Takeaway: To avoid the dangers of vacationing in Hawaii, read the previous  Trailblazer  Hawaii post, and don’t worry about sharks. Though you may want to re-read the shark-risk conditions just for fun.