Thursday, November 25, 1999

Shark attacks spark
reactivation of task force

The ocean advisory group's first action
will be to gather information about
recent attacks in the islands

By Gary T. Kubota


State land board chairman Timothy Johns plans to reactivate an ocean advisory task force, in light of two shark attacks in Kona within the last two months.

"This year, we've definitely seen an increase," said John Naughton, a task force member.

The task force was created and funded by the state Legislature after a fatal shark attack on Maui in 1991. It established a protocol for investigating shark attacks and issuing warnings, and started an educational campaign.

State aquatics official Randy Honebrink said the task force initially will gather information about previous attacks to get a better picture of the overall situation.

Honebrink said the shark that attacked Rhode Island visitor Laurie Boyett near the Kona Village Resort Tuesday was larger than the shark that attacked 16-year-old Big Island resident Jesse Spencer Oct. 1 about 17 miles south in Kailua-Kona.

"I think it's unlikely it's the same shark," he said.

Honebrink said based on an interview with a 17-year-old nephew of Boyett, officials believe the shark was larger than initial reports that described it as 6 to 8 feet long.

"It was a quick but good look," he said.

Naughton said the attack on Boyett seemed to be typical of the kind of shark attacks that occur in Hawaii.

Naughton said a shark usually attacks a person who is isolated and swimming or surfing alone or in pairs in the early morning or evening hours.

Boyett, 51, was swimming with her nephew some 300 yards offshore at about 5:20 p.m. when a shark bit her right buttock.

Police said Boyett injured her fingers as she fought to free herself from the shark.

Two hotel workers used a small boat to bring Boyett and her nephew back to shore, where she was flown by helicopter to Kona Community Hospital.

She was in satisfactory condition at the hospital yesterday.

State officials planned to reopen the beach fronting the Kona Village Resort for Thanksgiving today, but warned beach-goers to remain close to shore and to avoid swimming after 4 p.m.

The beach was closed yesterday as state officials conducted an aerial search by helicopter for sharks along the nearby coastline. No sharks were found as of yesterday afternoon.

The incident involving Boyett brings to 38 the number of shark attacks reported in Hawaii from 1990 to 1999, more than three times the number of attacks that were reported in 1970-79.

The shark attack was the third on the Big Island and at least the fifth in Hawaii in this year.

State aquatics officials believe a surfer was injured by a stingray on Kauai on March 8, rather than a shark as initially reported, reducing this year's count from six to five.

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