GREAT WHITE SHARK
Ocean thrill seekers snap catch of the day
Forty-five minutes into Wednesday's tour three miles off Haleiwa, four people in a shark cage started screaming with excitement.
The crew looked to see what all the commotion was about and saw a large animal approaching.
"It was so incredibly big, we thought it was a baby humpback whale," said Jimmy Hall, owner of Hawaii Shark Encounters.
Hall and his crew soon realized that the animal was not a whale, but a great white shark, 18 to 20 feet long. They too got excited, scrambled for their video and still cameras, entered the cage with the tourists and started snapping and recording.
After about 10 minutes of recording video and noticing that the large animal was not behaving aggressively, Hall realized this was his chance to fulfill a lifelong dream.
He exited the cage to swim with a great white shark.
"It was rubbing against the boat and cage. It looked like it was being very friendly and being very curious, not biting anything," Hall said.
In between getting out of the water to change batteries, Hall estimates he swam with the shark for about 20 minutes, touching the animal's dorsal fin, pectoral fins, side and tail.
He said he is usually more cautious, but the experience was a such "a rush."
The shark continued to linger around the boat and cage so that the crew had time to assist the three other tourists on the boat have their turn at what Hall describes as the show of a lifetime.
With all the batteries drained and still-photo frames used up, the boat headed back to shore. When the crew returned, the shark was gone.
Hall showed his pictures to John Naughton, a marine biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"It's a massive female white shark," Naughton said.
Naughton said the shark is easily more than 15 feet long, with a very large girth. He said a shark that size would weigh several tons.
"It's pretty exciting. It's a beautiful animal, an apex predator that's part of the ecosystem," Naughton said.
He said the female has classic mating scars on its sides, bites from males. Naughton hopes colleagues researching and tracking white sharks in Northern California will be able to identify the female if she is among the many white sharks that feed on seals there.
Researchers at Point Reyes Bird Observatory place electronic tags on white sharks to track where they go when they are not feeding off the California coast. One great white named Fintip migrated more than 2,000 miles between Hawaii and Farallon Island, near San Francisco, for two years in a row.
"We still don't know why they come out here. It might have something to do with reproduction," Naughton said.
Great white sharks were known to have been in Hawaiian waters before Western contact. And there have been sightings in recent years, but they are rare and should not be cause for alarm, Naughton said.
He said there have been reliable sightings off Niihau and at Makua and Waimea Bay on Oahu. However, without pictures the sightings are hard to confirm.
Hall's recording is believed to be the first video taken of a great white in Hawaii waters. Naughton said he has an underwater photograph of a great white at Molokini Atoll snapped by a visitor on a dive tour last year.
Since researchers know little about the animals, Naughton said he is interested in getting any records, particularly photographs. He can be reached at 944-2211.