MAUI SHARK ATTACK
WENDY OSHER / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Shark bite victim Aaron Finley of West Hollywood, Calif., and Dr. Peter Galpin were in Maui Memorial Hospital yesterday following the attack off Wailea on Monday.
Bad taste is lucky
WAILUKU » California resident Aaron Finley flew to Maui to deliver a CD he produced from a children's book called "How Do You Take a Shark to the Dentist?"
On the CD, he voices the role of Mr. Shark.
"It's ironic," remarked Maui resident Jane Foley, who wrote the book and song lyrics that go, "Oh, Mr. Shark. He's ever so mean. He'll eat you for breakfast like a jelly bean. Sometimes he'll hide in the nearest cave, swallow you up when you're passing on a wave."
That's a fair approximation of what happened Monday as Finley took a leisurely swim off Wailea.
"I felt something hit my leg really hard and then turned and saw this big gray thing swimming away and realized I'd just been bit," Finley, 32, said from his hospital bed in Wailuku, where a 6-inch, half-moon-shaped gash on his left calf served as a reminder of the encounter. "It felt like a wave knocked me into a rock."
Finley guessed the shark was 10 to 12 feet long, saying, "I've seen little reef sharks along Molokini, but never anything that big."
Finley's physician, Dr. Peter Galpin, said the description fits that of a tiger shark.
"Usually with this type of attack, it's a catch-and-release situation where the shark took one bite and realized he didn't want any more," he said. "We're kind of like the brussels sprouts of the shark diet -- they don't like us too much."
AMANDA COWAN / THE MAUI NEWS VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
Dr. Peter Galpin, left, and Aaron Finley, 32, of West Hollywood, Calif., show Finley's leg injury sustained in Monday's shark attack off Maui's Wailea Beach.
Conditions were fairly windy, choppy and murky when the incident occurred after 3:30 p.m. at Wailea Beach, where Finley, his fiancee and relatives had gone to enjoy a day at the beach. Finley tried snorkeling first, but gave up in favor of a relaxing swim about 30 yards offshore.
"I was thinking it's so nice to be out here in the ocean relaxing," said Finley, but that feeling turned to alarm when he was attacked and realized, "I'm alone, all by myself, and terrified."
Finley backstroked toward shore and swam about halfway back before he began yelling for help.
Four Seasons Resort employees Chris Hoffman and Manny Zaragoza responded by jumping in the water, attaching Finley to a floater and lifting his 6-foot-3-inch frame onto a beach chair. They wrapped the wound with towels and applied pressure until medics arrived.
Foley, a family friend who was at the scene, remarked, "I've been trained in emergency response, and I didn't have time to put any of my skills into action because those two employees were phenomenal.
"They had called 911, cleared the beach, gotten him to a beach chair with his leg elevated and wrapped before I could even think what to do," said Foley, who works in the radiology department at Maui Memorial Medical Center. "You knew immediately it was a shark attack. The wound was gaping, but Aaron was so calm, I think he was in shock."
Megan Tharpe, Finley's fiancee, recalled, "I saw his leg and almost lost my mind."
There are two entry points: the main wound -- which extends from the front of the left calf all the way to the back that nicked the bone and caused muscle damage -- and a smaller laceration on the thigh.
Doctors say Finley's surgery tomorrow will take less than two hours and will include repair to muscle damage.
"I feel incredibly lucky," said Finley. "The only problem is I don't have any insurance." He has set up a Bank of Hawaii account to accept donations for assistance with medical expenses.
Finley, a 32-year-old West Hollywood sound engineer, called it a "weird fluke" that he was attacked by a shark after finishing a CD on the subject.
Foley said the story is about a shark who is mean not by nature but because he has a toothache.
"The moral of the story is don't judge people," she said.
BACK TO TOP
Experts say healthier reefs bring more sharks to Maui
South Maui might have a greater incidence of shark attacks than Oahu because of a healthy population of sea turtles, a favorite food of sharks, says expert John Naughton.
The waters off south Maui are "like a big bank area" between Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe, which is rich with all kinds of the sharks' favorite foods, said Naughton, who has worked with sharks for 40 years and is formerly with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
On Monday, a 32-year-old West Hollywood, Calif., man became the fifth person to be attacked by a shark in the past two years off south Maui.
But a state official disagreed that south Maui has gotten more than its share of shark incidents.
"Sometimes shark events happen in clusters," said state aquatic biologist Russell Sparks.
Naughton said the neighbor islands generally have a much healthier reef ecosystem than Oahu, which probably means more sharks.
Naughton is quick to point out that it's not people who attract the predators. "Clearly the animals are not actively hunting people," he said. "It takes one taste, if you will, and realizes it's not a normal prey item like a turtle, dolphin or large fish, and immediately releases and swims away."
Sparks said he prefers the term shark "incident" to "attack."
"Sharks don't have hands and can't go up and touch it and feel it," he said.
Sparks noted the shark who bit the visitor didn't "clamp down and shake," but merely inflicted puncture wounds.
"He was pretty lucky the extent of the injuries weren't worse," he said.
Sparks, education specialist with the Aquatic Resources Division, said statistically there hasn't been a significant increase, with some years with next to nothing, and an average of three to five a year for the state.
In 2001, there were three shark attacks in Hawaii, eight in 2002 and four in each subsequent year (2004-2006), according to charts from the state Division of Aquatic Resources, Department of Land and Natural Resources.
This week's attack serves as a reminder not to go swimming or surfing alone in murky water, staying out of stream mouths and turbid water and avoid going out at dawn and dusk, Naughton said.
If approached, "fight like the dickens," and deliver blows to the nose or sensitive areas like the eyes and gills, he said.