Luau dancer Hoku Aki, 17, managed a smile yesterday after losing his left foot in a shark attack off Kauai. Shown in his Lihue hospital bed in this image from television, Aki was attacked on Monday by what is believed to have been a tiger shark while bodyboarding in murky water 150 yards off Brennecke Beach.

Kauai teen recalls
brush with shark

After losing his foot to a shark,
bodyboarder is glad to be alive

Eyes, gills vulnerable

By Anthony Sommer and Rosemarie Bernardo |

LIHUE >> Hoku Aki, the 17-year-old Kauai boy who fought off an attacking shark by gouging its eye out, is recuperating in the Queen's Medical Center this morning. He was transferred there last night and is reported in fair condition.

Aki, a Kauai High School senior and professional dancer, lost his lower left leg in Monday's shark attack while bodyboarding about 150 feet off Brennecke Beach on the island's south shore.

"I tried to open the mouth and get it off of me. That didn't work," Aki said in an interview with KITV-4 at Kauai's Wilcox Memorial Hospital. "I grabbed the shark's eye and ripped it out, and he let me go."

Aki said he thought he was going to die. "I opened my eyes and I could see the shark," Aki said. "It was tossing me all over the place. I heard my leg break. I heard the bone snap."

Authorities could not immediately determine the type of shark that attacked the teenager, but similar attacks have been blamed on tiger sharks.

Hoku Aki was Kauai High School's homecoming king last fall. He escorted Marissa Bonilla, homecoming queen.

"I had a look at it, at my leg, and I just noticed the skin was all torn up and all my flesh was just torn up," Aki said. "I didn't really notice my foot was gone until I was in the ambulance."

While he was at Wilcox hospital yesterday morning, Aki received a parade of visitors including the entire Kauai High School track team, of which he is a member, the Tahitian dance halau with which he performs fire dances at luaus, and the band in which he plays a variety of instruments. A crowd of fellow students waited in the lobby for a chance to visit him.

He also received a visit from a stranger, Michael Coots, who lost his lower right leg in a shark attack while bodyboarding at Kauai's Majors Bay in 1997. Coots was back in the water bodyboarding six weeks later.

Coots said his visit was as much for Aki's parents, Harmon and Kalea Aki, to let them know their son would recover. Hoku is one of nine children.

"The hardest part, honestly, was sitting on the beach watching all my friends surfing while I waited for the stitches to heal so I could surf again," Coots said.

Currently a journalism student at Kauai Community College, Coots, 22, said he has been accepted at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif., to study photography.

Harmon Aki said yesterday before leaving for Oahu that Hoku has remained in good spirits since the accident.

Hoku is still determined to be back in school to serve as the May Day King and to play with his band in the StarQuest state championship on May 4-5, his father said.

"He's a strong boy," he said. "We're thankful. It could have been worse. We still have him with us, and that's good."

Meanwhile, beaches along the south shore remained closed yesterday, and there was a report of sharks sighted off Lawai Beach Resort.

The Kauai Fire Department issued warnings against going into the ocean during periods of heavy runoff because sharks come close to shore scavenging for food.

Kauai had a third straight day of heavy rain yesterday. Fire officials said they would review the south shore swimming ban again today.

Poipu is popular for snorkeling and bodysurfing and ordinarily has underwater visibility of up to 100 feet, while Brennecke Beach next door is popular with bodyboarders.

"I can't remember the last time we closed the beach at Poipu," said Roy Yamagata, a supervisor at the Kauai Fire Department's Ocean Safety Bureau. "Normally it's a very safe place to swim."

In parts of the island where there was no ban, students on spring break were surfing.

Aki was attacked about noon Monday while waiting for a wave in murky water.

A trauma nurse visiting from Colorado was at the beach when Aki came ashore and is credited with saving his life. When a lifeguard from Poipu County Beach Park arrived, she already had stopped the bleeding.

Aki thanked the nurse for "saving my life."

State Shark Task Force spokesman Randy Honebrink spoke to Aki's surgeon at Wilcox hospital yesterday and said the bodyboarder was bitten right above his left ankle.

No bite marks were found on Aki's boogie board, Honebrink said.

He noted that shark attacks are unpredictable and can occur in murky or clear water.

The last attack that occurred at Brennecke Beach was in October 1970 when a man suffered injuries to his arm and shoulder.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



Eyes, gills leave
‘Jaws’ vulnerable

By Rod Antone

Marine biologists have plenty of tips on how to reduce the risk of a shark attack, but they have only one piece of advice for anyone being attacked.

Fight back.

"Sounds hokey, but it works," said National Marine Fisheries Service biologist John Naughton. "Kick, flail and fight ... you've got a better chance for survival."

Naughton, who has been studying sharks in Hawaii since the mid-1960s, sees Monday's shark attack on Kauai teen Hoku Aki as a perfect example of this type of ocean-survival defense.

Naughton said by grabbing at the shark's eyes, Aki struck at one of two vulnerable spots on the shark's otherwise tough body.

"He was really smart in grabbing the eye," said Naughton. "Also, you can grab the soft tissue inside the gills and start pulling. If it's a tiger shark, then they'll likely let go."

Naughton said he was "90 percent sure" that Monday's attack on Kauai involved a tiger shark. He points to several factors, including the nature of the attack, the type of wound and environmental conditions at the time. There were two ocean conditions Monday that usually mean a greater risk for sharks. One was murky water due to the heavy rains; the other was a freshwater stream nearby.

"During a heavy rain sometimes there will be dead animals that wash down the steams and into the ocean. That's what attracts tiger sharks during these areas," he said. "Also, though this was in the middle of the day, there was very low visibility because of the weather.

"This attracts the shark because they have a greater ability to hunt based on their other senses. They can still pick up vibrations of creatures in the water, while their prey may not be able to see them."

Naughton says the twisting and turning described during the attack is also characteristic of a tiger shark.

Tips on reducing the risk of attack

A shark task force that was formed several years ago by state and federal marine scientists and specialists from the state Department of Land & Natural Resources' Aquatic Division offers suggestions on how to reduce the risk of shark attacks:

>> Swim, surf or dive with other people.

>> Stay out of the water at dawn, dusk and night.

>> Do not enter the ocean if you have open wounds or are bleeding.

>> Avoid areas such as murky waters, harbor entrances and areas where streams or channels open to the ocean.

>> Do not wear high-contrast clothing or shiny jewelry.

>> Refrain from excessive splashing.

>> Leave the water quickly and calmly if a shark is sighted.

>> If you are spearfishing, remove speared fish from the water, or tow them a safe distance behind you.

>> Stay away from dead animals or animals in distress in the water.

>> Swim or surf at beaches patrolled by lifeguards, and follow their advice.

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