What’s going on with all the recent shark attacks and sightings in Hawaii lately? If you’re asking yourself that question, you’re not alone.
Last week, a 10 year-old boy was hospitalized for a shark bite in waters off Makaha. In Mid-October, a 44 year-old man was attacked by a 10-12 foot shark while swimming from the Mokolua Islands. Just eight days before that, a 25 year-old man lost his lower leg to a shark while surfing on the North Shore. And, about three weeks before that, a man was bitten on the leg by a tiger shark while spearfishing off the North Shore of the Big Island.
In all, there have been seven shark-related injuries in the waters near Hawaii this year, including one fatal attack off Maui in April.
What’s going on? That’s what researchers want to know.
Possible explanations include a larger shark population, an increase in green sea turtles, which are some sharks’ main food source, or too many people in the ocean. But, so far, no one can say exactly why the recent uptick in shark attacks near Hawaii are happening.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Hawaiian green sea turtle population has increased by 53 percent over the last 25 years.
George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History told the Honolulu Star Advertiser, “If the sea turtle population returns to normalcy, it is going to be highly attractive to animals that eat them,” Burgess said. “The chief predators of sea turtles … are sharks. You are going to see more interaction between sharks and turtles in the nearshore.”
While some scientists try to learn WHY the attacks are happening, some researchers are discussing HOW to stop it. A few scientists are even talking about the possibility of resurrecting shark control programs, such as culling (killing) sharks.
According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, shark culling programs have happened in Hawaii before. In total, 4,668 sharks were killed during six separate programs, according to a review of Hawaii’s shark control programs published in 1994.
Christopher Lowe, a co-author of the study who is now director of Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach, told the Honolulu Star Advertiser that killing sharks does not reduce the risk of future attacks. “The reality of it is, there is nothing you can do” to prevent shark attacks, he said. “The last thing you want to do is affect the ecology that brings people to the islands.”
Despite the rise in the number of shark attacks in Hawaii, it’s important to note that swimming in Hawaii’s ocean is still statistically very safe. But, you can still reduce your risk. To do so, reduce the chance of encountering a shark, avoid swimming in the murky waters, avoid swimming at night, and be sure to swim with others. Group water sports and activities, like those offered through Hawaii Aloha Travel, offer quite a few excursions that are geared toward larger groups of participants, which can reduce your risk of interacting with a shark.
It’s hard not to be alarmed by the recent spike in shark attacks here in Hawaii, but the chance of encountering a shark is still very small. So, enjoy your time in the ocean—just remember to reduce your risk by taking the necessary precautions.