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Tiger shark study begins on island


Stephens Media Hawaii

Regular visitors to Honokohau Harbor may recognize three or four sharks that frequent the area, a shark researcher says.

“There are some sharks in the mouth of the harbor that have almost become pets,” Big Island-based shark researcher Michael Domeier said, adding people have even named some of the animals. “They’re like clockwork around the harbor right now.”

He isn’t sure, yet, whether the animals have taken up permanent residence at the harbor or if they are just sticking around longer than normal migration patterns might suggest because of the easy access to fish parts dumped offshore before fishermen return to the harbor. But Domeier, director of the Fallbrook, Calif.-based Marine Conservation Institute, aims to find out the movements of tiger sharks around Hawaii Island via a new study that kicked off over the weekend.

“Now, during the peak of the fishing season, they have no reason to go (away),” Domeier said. “They’re there every single day.”

Domeier and his crew attempted to catch and tag a shark outside the harbor on Sunday, but the high number of fishermen and recreational users — including a scuba diver who dove under Domeier’s boat right after Domeier’s crew dropped bait to attract a shark — prompted him to look for a new location. On Monday, the crew spent much of the morning tracking, but not capturing, a shark in Kiholo Bay. As of midday Monday, the crew had not been able to tag any sharks.

Domeier told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser this weekend the study will try to determine whether resident sharks patrol specific areas, as some islanders believe.

“I suspect we will show this is not the case,” he said.

Tiger sharks are suspected or confirmed in nearly all Hawaii shark attacks. The study was planned months before recent attacks, Domeier said. Eight people have been bitten so far his year, including four in the past three weeks.

Domeier plans to use devices attached to dorsal fins to track tiger sharks by satellite. The tracking devices can last for two years or more. He helped develop the device while tracking the migratory patterns of great white sharks between California and the ocean south of Hawaii.

Nothing about the migrations of great whites made sense until they were tracked to find feeding and reproductive patterns, he said. The tracking and more than 14 years of photo-identification monitoring helped shark experts locate mating and pupping sites.

Domeier and scientist Oscar Sosa-Nishizaki of Mexico established a method for determining whether the population of white sharks was increasing. Domeier’s work was featured during two seasons by the National Geographic Channel’s “Expedition Great White” and “Shark Men.”

Another research project tracking tiger shark migration around Hawaii is planned to begin in September.

The two-year, $186,000 project will study the movement of tiger sharks in Valley Isle water. The project will look at whether sharks have favorite spots around Maui. A 20-year-old German visitor, Jana Lutteropp, died Wednesday from injuries suffered in a shark attack earlier in the month.

The state-funded study conducted by Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology researcher Carl Meyer will use satellite tracking and acoustic devices.

Scientists, Domeier said, have not tracked tiger sharks in Hawaii long enough to spot trends.

“I think they have predictable migratory patterns,” Domeier said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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