I really don’t know what to make of those recurring newspaper and TV stories about sharks suddenly loving Kaimana Beach (fronting the hotel of the same name) this fall.

No swimmer or surfer there has been threatened or bitten. The sharks are normally-harmless (to us, but not fish) white-tips. They’ve come in close because that’s where large schools of young bait fish have schooled up since September.

Back when the World Sailing organization was known as ISAF, it had written this in its magazine:

What’s a trip to Hawaii without a stop in Oahu or Maui? Two-thirds of Hawaii’s 159 shark attacks since 1828 have occurred off the coasts of these two islands, with 64 attacks occurring in Maui and 42 attacks in Oahu. Other islands aren’t safe either, with 28 attacks occurring off Kauai and 19 off the big island of Hawaii.”

Those attacks have been sufficient to get us rated as the 5th most shark-dangerous place in the world! But a shark expert I accompanied on a tagging mission when I was at KGMB News reminded me that “any day there might be maybe 30,000 people in the water here. If sharks really wanted to eat us, they’d be queuing up at popular beaches.”

We have 40 of the 350 species of sharks in the world swimming our island waters. The most common are white-tip reef sharks, sandbar sharks, hammerhead sharks, and the tiger sharks. Only that last one is really dangerous. Hammerheads a #2.

I did a ”shark swim” in a cage five miles off Haleiwa once. Galapagos sharks came for the chum. They are considered “aggressive” (will approach humans in the water) but they’re not on the likely-gonna-bite-you list.

My years of water experience have led me to suspect that most shark attacks here are accidental. I say that because usually after one bite, the shark moves off, seemingly saying “oops, too much bone. Not my kinds food.”

But then I remember journalist and PR guy Courtney Harrington’s incident. He was scuba diving in the boat channel just off the Hawaiian Village Hotel. A shark got “aggressive.” Harrington removed his air tank from his back and held it in front of himself. The shark attacked and smashed into the tank. It busted Harrington’s arm but saved him from much worse. The shark moved on.

Maybe you saw this recent Star-Advertiser story:

Mereck Pang said he snagged one [shark] Monday afternoon, and on Tuesday Fritz Dumalan hooked a 4-to 5-foot reef shark — small fry, he added, compared with the 14-footer that took his line two weeks ago.

Will sharks attack a human if there’s plenty of food in the ocean and even in the waters around swimmers and surfers? Kim Holland, the veteran marine biologist at the UH says “You’d have to say the risk is low, but it’s certainly not zero.”

In my many years as a swimmer and scuba enthusiast, even diving for black coral at 200+ feet of Lahaina water, I’ve never had any worry about sharks. They’re not my aumakua but my sense is that only the really exceptional one would be inclined to take a bite out of me. I don’t look like or small like their normal prey.

Of course, every swimmer and surfer’s concern is that if a shark mistakes you just long enough for one experimental little bite, those buzz saw teeth do so much damage that you’re likely to bleed out before you can get help.

Bleeding in the water. And you know what that says to a shark !


Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Biafran War in Nigeria (1968) Vietnam War (1969-73), Iraq in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. 2 Emmys for documentaries. Married to journalist Denby Fawcett; one daughter. Brett Jones, foreign service officer, State Department.

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