News Column

Latest Shark Attack Indicates Migration

Nov 30 2012 10:00PM

Gary T. Kubota, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Tom Kennedy was snorkeling with a friend off Kihei on Friday morning when, he recalled, he felt a tug on his left leg.

He looked back and saw his leg in the mouth of a 10-foot shark.

"It released me, so I started swimming as fast as I could," Kennedy, a 61-year-old visitor from Lake Oswego, Ore., said from his bed at Maui Memorial Medical Center.

"It was mostly fear of a second attack. ... Initially it didn't hurt so much," said Kennedy, who underwent surgery for multiple bite wounds to his lower leg and thigh area. He said the hospital doctors told him the bite did no serious damage.

It was the fourth shark attack on Maui since Oct. 18 -- the highest rate of shark attacks in recent history on the Valley Isle.

Kennedy was in waters fronting a beachside residential area at 1750 Halama St., just north of Charlie Young Beach in South Kihei. The shark struck at about 9:30 a.m.

"This dude was yelling, 'Shark attack!'" said Ryan Suda, who was working nearby.

Suda said a man who had a paddleboard had been snorkeling offshore when he apparently was bitten by a shark.

He said paddlers from the Wailea Canoe Club were nearby, brought him aboard and took him to shore. A woman applied a tourniquet on his left leg until paramedics arrived, Suda said.

Witnesses said Kennedy was "really calm" after the attack and warned friends to get on their paddleboard, said Suda, the owner of Suda Shades and Window Treatments.

The cluster of shark attacks on Maui seems to fall within the pattern of seasonal migration of tiger sharks from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to the main Hawaiian Islands to have pups during the months of October and November, scientists said.

While the attack in South Maui was most likely by a tiger shark, state officials aren't sure because Kennedy saw only the head of the shark, said Russell Sparks, a state aquatic education specialist. Kennedy said the shark's head was 2 feet wide.

"It sounded like a tiger shark," Sparks said.

Maui County officials said the attack happened about 200 yards offshore, but Sparks said it might have been as far as 500 yards offshore.

The waters off Halama Street have a near-shore reef, and the attack took place on the edge of the reef in waters 20 feet deep, he said.

A county helicopter found a shark swimming in the area of the attack, and county officials closed the beaches for nearly four miles from Kamaole Beach Park III to Kalepolepo Park.

Sparks said state and county officials will reassess the situation this morning, and said the stretch of beach will likely remain closed until midday today.

Officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said most shark attacks occur during September, October and November.

Tiger sharks, scientifically Galeocerdo cuvier, are among the species known to attack people and are the most wide-ranging predator in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, routinely swimming hundreds of miles, according to the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology.

Scientists are looking at growing evidence that the attacks may be tied to seasonal migration patterns of tiger sharks from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to the main Hawaiian Islands.

Institute scientists said a preliminary study indicates the tiger sharks migrated in deep as well as shallow water where people were swimming and surfing.

Three other recent attacks on Maui are thought to have been by tiger sharks:

--On Oct. 18 an 8-foot shark attacked a stand-up paddler in waters off Kanaha Beach about 300 yards offshore at a surf break known as Boneyard. His paddleboard had a bite mark that was 9 to 10 inches wide.

--On Oct. 27 a 51-year-old woman was bitten by a 10- to 12-foot shark while paddling into Makena Landing in South Maui. She suffered punctures to her right thigh and cuts to her hand.

--On Nov. 4, Maui diver Mark Riglos was participating in an annual spearfishing "roundup" of alien fish several hundred yards off the Waiehu Golf Course in Central Maui when a shark bit him above his right ankle at 8:09 a.m. He was accompanied to shore by a friend and kept the shark away with his spear gun, authorities said.

Friday's incident was the ninth shark attack in Hawaii this year statewide.

State officials considered culling sharks following fatal shark attacks in 1991 to 1993 but met opposition from some Native Hawaiians who regarded the shark as their aumakua, or guardian.

Scientists also were doubtful that they would capture the shark responsible for the attack because tiger sharks are far-ranging, migrating from island to island.

Source: (c)2012 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Distributed by MCT Information Services

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