Monday, July 12, 1999

More reports of
sharks putting the
bite on people

The reported attacks in Hawaiian
waters have tripled since the 1970s

By Gary Kubota
Maui correspondent


Reported shark attacks in Hawaii have tripled since the 1970s.

From 1990 to 1996, reported shark attack cases in Hawaii totaled 30, compared with 24 in 1980-89, and 12 in 1970-79, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. Unofficial records show three shark attacks in 1997, and three so far in 1999, for a total of 36 in this decade.

The report includes some attacks on people that may have occurred after death.


Three attacks this year

It does not list attacks subsequent to 1996, when officials stopped formally collecting and reporting the information. But Star-Bulletin files list three attacks in 1997, one off Kauai and two off Oahu.

And so far this year there have been at least three reported shark attacks:

Bullet On March 5, Maui resident Robyne Knutson suffered a large gash in her leg after a shark attacked her while swimming about 300 yards off Kaanapali.
Bullet On March 8, an Arizona visitor said he received a bruise on his right calf after a shark attacked him while he was body-boarding at Kealia Beach on Kauai.
Bullet On March 18, Nahid Davoodabai of California, died, and her body was never found, after a shark bit off a leg as she and her husband were swept out to sea off west Maui, according to her husband.

Believed to be tigers

John Naughton, a National Marine Fisheries biologist, said he believes most of the attacks have been by tiger sharks.

A shark is fairly cautious and won't go into an area where there are 30 to 40 people in the water, a common occurrence at surfing sites on Oahu, including Waikiki, he said.

So, "we see attacks on more isolated people, swimming or surfing alone or in pairs," he said.

Naughton and another fisheries official, George Balazs, who gathered the statistics, said the number of attacks is too few to allow significant conclusions.

More vigorous reporting

Randy Honebrink, a state aquatic resources official, said the increase in the number of shark attacks in the 1990s is due to an "anomalous" period from 1990 to 1994, when there were at least 15 attacks.

He said he believes some of the numbers may have been higher due to more vigorous reporting of shark attacks.

Part of the Hawaiian culture

Native Hawaiian Charles Maxwell says sharks are part of the island culture and regarded by native Hawaiians as aumakua, or guardian spirits.

Maxwell said Hawaiians know not to go into the water at sunrise and sunset or swim near a stream mouth after a rain.

"If people don't follow what Hawaiians teach them or what is apparent, they are going to get in trouble," he said.

"The ocean is not a swimming pool or a bathtub."

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