Influx of shark sightings could be deceiving
By Diana Leone
Immediately after a shark bites a person in Hawaii waters, people tend to be more vigilant about spotting sharks, experts say.
"It always happens that when sharks make the news, people start paying more attention," said Randy Honebrink, of the state Division of Aquatic Resources. "And when they do that, they see more sharks."
Whether the number of sharks is increasing is not clear, he said. "We know there's a lot of them out there" because researchers have no trouble catching sharks to tag them for tracking, Honebrink said. "And we know for the most part they leave people alone."
For the most part, but not entirely.
From 1990 through March, the Hawaii Shark Task Force has recorded 57 shark attacks on people or their gear (usually a surfboard), an average of three to four a year. Forty-six of the attacks resulted in injuries, and five in death. Only one year (1998) had no recorded shark attacks. The year with the most attacks recorded by the task force (eight) was 2002.
Five deaths by shark in Hawaii waters have been listed by the task force since 1990: surfer Willis McInnis at Kahana, Maui, in 2004; kayaker Nahid Davoodabai, west of Maui in 1999; body-boarder Aaron Romento at Keaau Beach Park, Oahu, in 1992; body-boarder Bryan Adona at Leftovers, near Waimea Bay, Oahu, in 1992; and snorkeler Martha Morrell at Olowalu, Maui, in 1991.
In the latest incident, Ronald Deguilmo, 29, was spearfishing Wednesday when he was bitten in the arm by a shark at the Leftovers surf spot between Waimea Bay and Laniakea. He was listed as stable by his doctor yesterday.
Visiting surfer Liz Dunn, 28, was bitten in her left leg while surfing in murky conditions at Leftovers on March 24.
Some have questioned whether an increase in sea turtles on the North Shore could be leading to an increase in sharks, said George Balazs, lead sea turtle researcher for the National Marine Fisheries Service. Tiger sharks are known to eat turtles, though it is not known how often, he said. "So if you have more turtles, you could have more tiger sharks."
The number of green sea turtles has been increasing since they were listed as a threatened species in 1978.
Another question people have asked is whether boat tours that throw fish to attract sharks to underwater cages for tourists could be drawing sharks in. State law forbids feeding sharks in state waters, which is out to three miles from shore, said Gary Moniz, head of Department of Land and Natural Resources conservation officers.
Conservation officers have at times checked on boats that were closer to shore than that, Moniz said, and "they've been in compliance" with the no-feeding rule. The boats are free to be in state waters and to put their observation cages underwater, as long as there is no feeding of sharks, he said.
Safety advice to stay clear of sharks
Ten safety tips to reduce the risk of shark injury:
1. Swim, surf or dive with other people, and don't move too far away from assistance.
2. Stay out of the water at dawn, dusk and night, when some species of sharks move inshore to feed.
3. Do not enter the water if you have open wounds or are bleeding in any way. Sharks can detect blood and body fluids in extremely small concentrations.
4. Avoid murky waters, harbor entrances and areas near stream mouths (especially after heavy rain), channels or steep drop-offs. These types of waters are known to be frequented by sharks.
5. Do not wear high-contrast clothing or shiny jewelry. Sharks see contrast very well.
6. Refrain from excessive splashing; keep pets, which swim erratically, out of the water. Sharks are known to be attracted to such activity.
7. Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present, and leave the water quickly and calmly if one is sighted. Do not provoke or harass a shark, even a small one.
8. If fish or turtles start to behave erratically, leave the water. Be alert to the presence of dolphins, as they are prey for some large sharks.
9. Remove speared fish from the water or tow them a safe distance behind you. Do not swim near people fishing or spearfishing. Stay away from dead animals in the water.
10. Swim or surf at beaches patrolled by lifeguards, and follow their advice.
Source: Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources