Do sharks really prefer spending time in the waters near Maui? Apparently so.

According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, new research released shows tiger sharks naturally favor waters near Maui that are close to some of Hawaii’s most popular beaches for humans.

In fact, the research showed the sharks favor waters between Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe islands because the area is rich with coral reefs that offer habitat for fish and other marine life that sharks like to eat. And, according to Carl Meyer, assistant researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and the principal investigator on the report, together, Maui and nearby islands have more preferred shark habitat than all the other main Hawaiian Islands combined

This can reasonably explain why there are a higher number of shark bites in waters surrounding Maui than other Hawaii islands, Meyer told the newspaper (There were six shark attacks around Maui in 2012 and eight in 2013. The numbers dropped to five in 2014 and one in 2015).

The report goes on to say that sharks near Maui tend to stay in these waters. But the area also draws sharks that normally live in Oahu waters, particularly during mating season.

Bethany Hamilton lost an arm to a shark attack off Kauai in 2003, but continues to surf professionally.

Yet Meyer stressed it’s rare for sharks to bite people. He told the Honolulu Star Advertiser shark attacks have increased over time but that is because the human population has grown and more people are in the ocean.

The newspaper reports that state of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources commissioned the two-year study after a spike in shark attacks off Maui in 2012 and 2013 raised community concerns. The researchers tagged tiger sharks near Maui and Oahu and tracked them as they swam around the island chain and open ocean.

So, what does this study mean for those who frequent Maui and love to swim off Maui’s shores?

It means you need to be careful when entering the ocean.

“Swimming in the ocean is swimming in what amounts to a wilderness environment. Sharks are part of this environment,” Bruce Anderson, administrator of the state Division of Aquatic Resources, told the Honolulu Star Advertiser. “We have to accept that they’re there and take precautions to avoid encounters, which are going to occur from time to time.”

Anderson said the state would increase its educational outreach in response to the study. He urged people to stay out of the ocean if the water is murky. He recommended avoiding areas near streams where dead animals may wash out, attracting sharks. He suggested swimming in groups, as a buddy can help if a shark does bite.

Anderson said shark behavior hasn’t changed, but people’s behavior has, as more people are kayaking, swimming, spearfishing and taking up ocean sports such as stand-up paddleboarding.

two stand-up paddle boarders on the ocean

Photo: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

The study suggests that more shark attacks may be related to the growing number of people who participate in ocean sports, such as stand-up paddle boarding.

Meyer told the Honolulu Star Advertiser that shark attacks would likely continue to increase gradually over time as the human population grows.

“The ingredients that have gone into a general upward trend in the number of shark bites in Hawaii and other places around the world are mainly more people in coastal areas going into the ocean and doing a wider array of ocean recreational activities,” Meyer said.

That doesn’t mean you need to curtail your Maui activities when you visit, but it does mean you need to be vigilent about safety.

Who knew sharks love Maui as much as we do?!

 

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