This tiger shark was photographed just outside Honokohau Harbor two years ago, when sharks started appearing, drawn by fish remains.

Kona officials
fear shark being
lured to harbor

Users are warned not
to swim or dump fish
in Honokohau, where
tiger sharks often visit

KAILUA-KONA » A 14-foot tiger shark dubbed Laverne has state officials in Kona worried that people are making it too easy for the animal to snack on food close to shore.


Although it was unclear whether the shark came into Honokohau Harbor again this week, a caller mentioning a shark prompted officials to issue a warning yesterday, said Nancy Murphy, district manager of the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation.

Officials have been trying to keep the harbor clean and to keep swimmers out of it for two years since Laverne first showed up in 2003, Murphy said.

Why Laverne? According to boat captain and dive guide Kendra Choquette, dive boat operators give sea creatures proper names to help personify them, even tiger sharks. She said her ex-husband, also a dive guide and boat captain, latched onto the name Laverne, which eventually became a code name for any tiger shark that enters harbor waters.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources warned that charter boat owners should stop throwing the remains of cleaned fish into Honokohau Harbor, four miles north of Kailua-Kona. If they continue the practice, they could lose their license to use the harbor, Murphy said.

As if the image of Laverne chomping on fish guts weren't enough, some people also swim in the harbor, which is also banned, Murphy said.

It's not that Laverne has caused any trouble -- yet. The shark swims in from the ocean periodically, and boat owners make casual comments like, "Laverne just came by my boat," Murphy said.

Dive tour operator Lisa Choquette, Kendra's mother, said Laverne is just one of several tiger sharks that come to the harbor every June when the charter fishing season begins.

They come to eat marlin carcasses dumped by fishermen, Choquette said.

Choquette leads scuba tours just outside the harbor. "We go looking for them," she said. "They're like a Volkswagen with stripes. They're big, bulky animals," she said.

"They don't hunt people. We're not on their list," Choquette said. Scuba divers releasing clouds of bubble do not look like food to them, she said.

But tigers sharks have attacked snorkelers and surfers, usually in murky waters, probably in cases of mistaken identity when someone on a surfboard looked like a turtle, Choquette said.

As far as swimming in the harbor, "it's probably not the brightest thing to do," Choquette said, since a marlin carcass could cause Laverne and her friends some confusion between fish and people.

Families also sometimes throw their dog into the harbor to get it to swim, without paying attention to whether fish remains are in the water, she said -- also "not the brightest thing to do."

About two weeks ago some beaches were closed on West Maui after five tiger sharks were seen in the water, probably attracted by more than 100 dead akule fish. In May a surfer offshore from Kuau, Maui, was knocked off his board by a shark whose species was not determined. The board had six tooth marks in it.

Reporter Leila Fujimori contributed to this report.

Hawaii's Sharks

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