Sharks are beautiful and often misunderstood creatures.
They hold significant religious and spiritual importance in many Native Islander cultures, such as the Hawaiians, who believe that sharks symbolize strength, protection, and cultural significance.
In Hawaiian culture, there is even a god associated with sharks known as Kamohoaliʻi, believed to swim near the islands of Maui and Kaho’olawe.
How Many Shark Attacks Happen in Hawaii?
In 2023, Hawaii reported only eight shark attacks, sadly resulting in one fatality: Jason Carter, who lost his life while surfing in Maui.
The distribution of these incidents included three in Maui, two on Oahu, one in Molokai, two in Kauai, and one on the Big Island.
Over the past 43 years, from 1980 to 2023, a total of 176 shark attacks occurred in Hawaii.
Notably, the month of October saw the highest frequency of attacks, with 2013 marking the peak at 13 incidents.
Examining the last 23 years, from 2000 to 2023, there has been an average of 5.8 shark attacks annually.
This contrasts with the prior two decades, which averaged 1.7 attacks per year.
The increase in reported incidents may be attributed to improved reporting mechanisms facilitated by cellular devices.
What Kind of Sharks Live In Hawaii?
The Hawaiian Islands are inhabited by over 40 shark species, with some of the most common ones being Tiger sharks, Black/White/Grey Tip Reef sharks, Sandbar sharks, Hammerhead sharks (both Scalloped and Smooth varieties), and Galapagos sharks.
Tiger sharks are notably considered the most aggressive sharks in Hawaii.
While the infamous Great White sharks, often associated with fear due to the film Jaws, are part of the shark species in the region, they are rarely spotted in Hawaiian waters.
Keep in mind that Maui tends to be a hot bed for Tiger sharks.
Characterized: Tiger and jaguar-like spots on the upper half of the body and has a blunt snout.
Average size: Average length of 12 feet but can reach 18 feet.
Found where: Deep waters during the day and near shore during the night for feeding.
Characterized: The tip of fins are dark and white bands that extend from the rear tail to the main dorsal fin.
Average size: Up to 8 feet.
Found where: Open Ocean and coastal waters at night to feed.
Characterized: Caudal, pelvic, and pectoral fins have dark marks.
Average size: Average around 3 to 5 feet but can reach lengths of 7 feet.
Found where: Near shoreline and shallow reefs.
Characterized: Large front dorsal fin with a vertical-edged tail.
Average size: Typically, 10 to 12 feet.
Found where: Outer reefs near deep water and occasionally inshore near drop-offs.
Characterized: Hammer-like head with eyes on the ends of the head.
Average size: Average around 7 feet but can reach 12 to 15 feet in length.
Found where: Found inshore and far out in the open ocean. More common in shallow waters during spring and summer.
What Months are Sharks Most Active?
The most active months for shark attacks in Hawaii are typically from October through December.
Contrary to sharks being more active during dawn, dusk, and night times when they tend to feed, approximately 67% of shark attacks in Hawaii happen between 10 am and 4 pm.
This is attributed to increased water recreation activities during these hours, leading to higher chances of shark encounters or sightings.
How to Protect Yourself From a Shark Attack
Time in The Water
It is advisable to avoid being in the water before sunrise, immediately after sunset, and at night.
During these times, sharks tend to come closer to the shore to feed.
Additionally, visibility is reduced during these hours, making it challenging for both sharks and humans to distinguish objects and potential threats.
Being cautious and avoiding these periods can contribute to minimizing the risk of shark encounters.
Avoid Certain Areas
To reduce the risk of shark encounters, it's advisable to avoid certain areas such as harbors, river mouths, and fishing or spearfishing locations.
River mouths, in particular, can be hotspots for sharks, especially during heavy rainfall.
During these times, fish are often pushed out into the ocean, attracting sharks looking for a feeding opportunity.
Being cautious and avoiding these specific areas can contribute to minimizing the likelihood of encountering sharks.
If you encounter a shark, it's important to remain calm.
Paddle away slowly if the shark is in your sight and try to maintain visual contact.
Alerting lifeguards on the shore is crucial, as they can take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of everyone in the area.
Staying composed and following these steps can help manage the situation and reduce the risk of harm.
Blood and Urine
If you sustain a cut or injury in the water and are bleeding, it's crucial to swim back to shore immediately.
Sharks are attracted to the scent of blood and can detect it from considerable distances, even over a quarter mile away.
Additionally, it's advisable to avoid urinating while in the water, as sharks are attracted to urine as much as they are to blood.
Taking these precautions can help minimize the risk of attracting sharks in the vicinity.
What To Do If You Witness a Shark Attack
If you witness a shark attack while surfing or swimming, it is crucial to take immediate and coordinated action.
Alert lifeguards if available onshore and call 911 to request ambulance assistance. Notify other swimmers and surfers to exit the water calmly but urgently.
If you find yourself in a close situation and may not have time to reach the shore, waving to the lineup can be a signal for more people to paddle over, potentially scaring the shark away.
However, it's important to note that sharks are unpredictable, and attempting to provoke or intimidate them may not always be effective.
The safety of everyone involved should be the top priority.
If the shark leaves the area, make an effort to assist the affected person in getting out of the water safely.
Recommended actions may vary based on the specific circumstances.
Prioritizing the safety of individuals in the water is essential in any shark-related incident.
Shark Attacks in Hawaii: Conclusion
Shark attacks are rare in Hawaii, especially when considering that anywhere from six million to nine million people visit the Hawaiian Islands annually.
With that being said, always be aware of your surroundings. If you do spot a shark, calmly move away and alert lifeguards.
Lifeguards will determine whether it is safe to continue staying out or to close the beach for the day.