Sharks too close to Maui beach
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A portion of Kaanapali Beach was closed during the weekend after sharks were observed in a fish-feeding frenzy in knee-deep water fronting the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.
Officers of the state Conservation and Resources Enforcement Division received a report Friday of several sharks near the shoreline.
Six whitetip reef sharks, estimated at 5 to 6 feet long, were seen "feeding aggressively" on large schools of fish, according to Randy Awo, Maui County branch chief of the division.
A small group of blacktip reef sharks and gray reef sharks were observed Saturday and Sunday in the same area.
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A popular Maui resort beach has reopened after a weekend feeding frenzy by reef sharks that resisted efforts by state agents on Jet Skis to disperse them.
"When a shark decides they're not going to budge when a personal watercraft is present, it does heighten our concern of public safety," said Randy Awo, Maui County branch chief of the Conservation and Resources Enforcement Division, part of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
A portion of Kaanapali Beach was shut down during the weekend after sharks were observed feeding in knee-deep water fronting the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.
Maui County officials with the conservation division received a report in the late afternoon hours Friday of several sharks near the shoreline. Enforcement officers arrived at the beach at 6:20 p.m. and observed six whitetip reef sharks "feeding aggressively" on large schools of fish, said Awo.
The sharks were estimated at 5 to 6 feet long and were feeding about 5 to 10 yards from the shoreline.
Officers closed a 500-yard stretch of the beach in the proximity of the feeding. Hotel personnel also were informed of the sightings.
The beach remained closed Saturday and Sunday after officers observed three sharks -- blacktip reef and gray reef sharks also estimated at 5 to 6 feet long -- in the same spot feeding on schools of fish.
Enforcement officers on all-terrain vehicles and Jet Skis were at the site to enforce the beach closure on land and in water. Lifeguards assisted.
"There was a lot of baitfish in the water that was drawing a lot of big fish like moi and needlefish and some papio," Awo said, adding that the larger fish, in turn, attracted the sharks. The school of baitfish comprised iao and nehu.
While it's common to observe schools of baitfish near the shoreline in certain parts of Maui, "it is uncommon to see sharks coming so close to the shore as a result of the baitfish activity," he added.
Awo said that it was also unusual that the sharks either did not budge or bumped into the Jet Skis when the watercraft attempted to push the sharks farther out to deeper waters. When the Jet Skis edged closer to the sharks, they bumped into the watercraft, Awo said.
"Normally they get out of the way, not always," he said.
Water conditions were described as calm and clear during the weekend. There were no injuries.
Tim Tricas, a zoology professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and an affiliate faculty member of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, said it was not surprising that the watercraft could not drive them away from the shoreline.
"Imagine a wild dog was near some really good food, it would be equally vigorous in its behavior to get to that food source," he said. "The sharks can be very persistent when they corner their quarry."
He said reef sharks have relatively small home ranges and were attracted by the low-frequency pulse sounds of quick-moving and struggling fish.
"What is so spectacular about this, it's fairly uncommon to see that kind of behavior in populated areas on the islands because our normal fish resources on the islands are so depleted," said Tricas, who has been studying the behavior, reproduction and sensory biology of sharks since 1970.
Officers reopened the beach Monday after no sharks were observed. Periodic checks are being done at the beach to ensure public safety, Awo said.
A lifeguard is not stationed at the affected portion of Kaanapali Beach, primarily frequented by tourists. Various beach-related activities that include snorkeling, scuba diving and kayaking are offered by hotel personnel. Hotel officials could not be reached for comment.
Anyone who observes a shark sighting in the area is asked to call the state Division of Aquatic Resources at 243-5294.