News Column

Shark Attacks Total 11 in Hawaii

Dec 7, 2012

Rosemarie Bernardo

Shark Attacks

A shark bit a 60-year-old surfer off Kauai's west shore Wednesday, raising the attack total for Hawaii to 11 this year, an exceptionally active period for the ocean predators.

The strike on the Kalaheo man also was the second in six days in Hawaii.

"It's an unusual year, for sure," said Randy Honebrink, state shark specialist and education coordinator of the state Division of Aquatic Resources.

The increase, particularly in October and November, is unprecedented in his experience, Honebrink said.

The 11 attacks so far this year equal the total of the four previous years combined, according to figures from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Aquatic Resources.

While this year's number is relatively high, none of them have been fatal and three resulted in no injury. The latest incident occurred about 1:20 p.m. Wednesday when the man was surfing with friends at Pakala Beach at a surf break called Pakala's, also known as Infinities. The shark bit his left foot.

A resident from Pakala Camp drove him to Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital, according to DLNR officials.

The surfer was listed in stable condition. The extent of his injuries wasn't clear.

The shark was described to be about 10 feet long. Honebrink said it was likely a tiger shark, the species most often involved in attacks on humans in Hawaii. At least six of the 11 attacks this year are believed to be from tiger sharks, according to a state summary of the incidents.

Warning signs were posted at Pakala Beach and enforcement officers were on site to warn beachgoers.

Officers will return to the beach today to look for signs of sharks.

The seasonal migration of tiger sharks to the main Hawaiian islands from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands could be a factor in the increased number of attacks, Honebrink said.

Heavy rainfall that battered Kauai Tuesday night and early Wednesday also could have played a role because rain can wash dead animals down streams into the ocean.

There are many factors at work in the attacks, which can vary widely year to year, Honebrink said.

On the morning of Nov. 30, Tom Kennedy, a visitor from Oregon, was snorkeling with a friend off Kihei, Maui, when a 10-foot shark bit his left leg. Kennedy suffered multiple bites on his lower leg and thigh.

Wednesday's attack was the third on Kauai so far this year:

--On Nov. 4, a shark bit a surfer's board near Davidson's surf break in Kekaha. The male surfer, who was in a group of eight to 10 surfers, was not injured.

--On July 30, Steve Stotts suffered a cut and puncture wounds to his left foot after he was attacked while surfing at Mahaulepu Beach.

The other attacks this year included six off Maui, and one each off Lanai and Oahu's North Shore.

While the chances of an attack this year have been slightly higher, Honebrink said the odds are still incredibly low considering how many people swim, surf and play in the ocean.

"When you think about all the people in the water around the state throughout the year and look at how many people are getting bit, it's still one-in-a-million chance even in a year like this, probably way less than one in a million," he said.

Still, he said, it's fortunate that no one has been killed or badly injured this year.

The attacks are a good reminder for people to be cautious when they enter the ocean, Honebrink said.

"Hopefully people keep that in mind," he said.

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

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