Shark attacks rare in Hawaii, elsewhere


LIHUE, Kauai (AP) — Two people in Hawaii suffered shark bites last week but shark experts say it’s safe to get in the water — especially if the water is clear.

Hanalei biologist and videographer Terry Lilley says five people on average are killed each year by accidental shark bites, which are called shark attacks. Often the bites come in murky water, where sharks mistake humans for their usual prey.

“We’re not their prey item,” he said of sharks. “Thank goodness. If we were, a lot of us wouldn’t be here.”

The Garden Island, quoting the Shark Attack File website, reports there were 106 recorded shark incidents worldwide in 2012.

Kiowa Gatewood, 19, survived a bite by a tiger shark July 29 while surfing in murky water off White Plains Beach on Oahu.

Don Heacock, an aquatic biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said this is the time of year when many species of Hawaii sharks, such as hammerheads, come to nearshore waters to give birth.

Tiger sharks, one of nearly 40 species found in Hawaii waters, are one of the top three sharks behind attacks throughout the world.

, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website.

“Tiger sharks are considered particularly dangerous because of their size, and their indiscriminate feeding behavior,” according to hawaiisharks.com. “They will eat almost anything, and often feed on objects at the water’s surface. Although it’s never been proven, some bites on people may be the result of investigatory behavior; the shark bites an object (in this case a person) to determine whether it is an acceptable food source.”

The Florida Museum of Natural History website notes 116 confirmed, unprovoked shark attacks and eight fatalities in Hawaii waters between 1828 and 2012.

It’s been a decade since the last death by shark in Hawaii. Willis McInnis, 57, was killed in 2004 while surfing in murky water near Kahana.

Heacock said swimmers should avoid dirty, murky water, swimming with open wounds and swimming with food.

“Those are real bad ideas,” he said.

Sharks are “beautifully adapted fish,” acting as the “wolves” or “janitors” of the ocean, he said.

“The movie ‘Jaws’ did the greatest injustice that anything could have done for these magnificent animals,” he said. “We need to protect sharks. Sharks have a beneficial impact on marine ecosystems because they mainly feed on the sick, dead and dying.”

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Information from: The Garden Island, http://thegardenisland.com/

 

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