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Shark Awareness
 
Added: Aug-30-2006, Hits: 5,250, Rating: 3.2475, Reviews: 1, Votes: 4 Bookmark and Share
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There are over 40 species of sharks in the Hawaiian Islands. 8 of these species are commonly seen close to the shore. Encounters between shark and human are very infrequent, given how many people and sharks are in the ocean in the same area at the same time. There is certainly danger, because there is no way to determine where a shark may be, or what it will do. That is a risk one takes by swimming or diving in the ocean, much like the risk you take getting behind the wheel of your car every day.

There about 2-3 unprovoked shark attacks reported in Hawaii per year which means it is rare that a shark will bite a human, considering that tens of thousands people in the ocean every day of the year in the Hawaiian Islands. That being said, it is still wise to know something about what you may encounter, and to reduce risk however possible. This is not only a precaution for humans, but for the sharks as well. People panic when there is a shark attack, and shark killings soar in response. Sharks are a vital member to the ecosystem, as well as "Auma Kua', a sacred and revered animal for Native Hawaiians. They should be treated with respect, and this means extending our awareness and sharing their space with them as intelligently as possible.

Of the sharks of Hawaii, the Tiger Shark and the Galapagos Shark appear to be most aggressive. The remaining species, though potentially dangerous, seem to attack only if provoked.

A Tiger shark is fairly easy to identify. On average, they are between 10-16 feet in length (they have been documented up to 23 ft) and weigh about 2000 pds. The Tiger is a large shark with a squarish blunt head and tiger-like bands of dark grey upon grey along its back. They tend to prefer feeding at dusk, and move closer inshore in the winter. They are the most indiscriminate about their food choices, and have been known to bite a variety of things to determine if it something they can eat. If there is a Tiger present in the water with you, it is best to get out of the water.

Galapagos sharks are the other species that can be aggressive, but they are harder to identify. They are grey with a sharper and longer nose than the Tiger. If you see a shark larger than 6 feet, and it isn't a Tiger, chances are good it is a Galapagos. If you are diving, Galapagos have certain behaviors to indicate it is preparing to attack. They will hump their backs and swim in a figure eight. Vacate the area, because this shark is threatened and will attack.

Personally, I think if you are swimming or boarding and see any shark it is wise to remove yourself from the area. Divers or snorkelers have the benefit of seeing the shark from under the water, which helps to identify the shark and size to determine if the shark is a threat or not. Most sharks will leave a diver or snorkeler alone although there have been attacks on divers, in particular, spearfish and abalone divers. The highest risk for people in the ocean is when they are on the surface of the water while swimming, surfing, boogie boarding, etc.

Shark experts are not absolutely certain why sharks occasionally attack humans. (There are 2 classifications of shark attacks - provoked and unprovoked. Here we are only discussing unprovoked.) There are common theories, with a case of mistaken identity being the reason on almost every account. The one thing experts agree on is that we are not part of the shark's diet. So, while there is no way to absolutely guarantee safety from a shark attack, there are some factors that might help separate you from their common prey.

In Hawaii, sea turtles and fish are a large part of the shark's diet. When the sharks look for turtles, they tend to glide on the ocean floor, looking for the silhouette a turtle makes when it swims above. A human on the surface, particularly one on a board, does not look unlike a sea turtle, with the mass of the body being the board, arms and legs dangling like the turtle's flippers.

Sharks also go after fish. If a swimmer or diver is wearing shiny jewelry or has high contrasting tan lines or swim gear, this looks something like the fish they hunt. The shininess mimickis the sheen of fish scales, and high contrast swim gear and tan lines resembles high contrast fish markings. There is some debate over a sharks vision and ability to detect colors, but some think that bright colors may attract the shark, given the bright colors of some fish.

The State of Hawaii Shark Task Force recommends the following measures to reduce the risk of being bitten by a shark:

  • Don't swim alone.
  • Swim in guarded areas.
  • Avoid swimming at dusk.
  • Don't swim with bleeding wounds
  • Avoid murky water.
  • Don't wear bright jewelry or high contrasting colors.
  • Refrain from excessive splashing.
  • Don't swim if sharks are known to be present.
  • Be alert if turtles and fish are fleeing the area.
  • Remove speared fish from the water.

  • (Source - State of Hawaii Shark Task Force)

    Additional tips:
  • If there is evidence of baitfish in a school, get out of the water. Where there are lots of prey, there will be a predator. A lot of people have stated (surfers in particular) that there were baitfish present when they were attacked by a shark. If schooling fish start to behave erratically or congregate in large numbers, leave the area.
  • Avoid swimming in waters with runoff (i.e. after a heavy rainfall) or sewage, or areas frequented by sport or commercial fisherman. Sharks are attracted by smell and by frequencies emitted by fish that are being speared or killed.
  • Avoid swimming between sandbars, near steep drop-offs, near channels or at river mouths, sharks hang out in these areas.
  • Avoid large groups of fish, seals, sea lions, or turtles. They all are prominent on the shark's menu.
  • Stay away if you see large groups of dolphins and seabirds. They are attracted to the same food sharks eat and if they are congregating, chances are good sharks are as well.
  • If you are diving and are approached by a shark, stay as still as possible. They can be threatened if you thrash. If you are erratic in movements, it mimes a wounded animal. If you are carrying fish or other catches, release the catch and quietly leave the area.
  • Swim in populated areas. There are few reports of sharks coming into heavily populated areas, it is usually a lone swimmer who has gone out too far.
  • Don't think you're safe just because the water is shallow -- shark attacks can occur in less than three feet of water. While shark activity tends to be greater a few hundred yards from shore, stay alert even if you're in thigh-deep water.


  • Three classifications of shark attacks:

    "Hit and run" attacks: These are the most common types of attack. They will often occur in the surf zone. The victim does not see the shark, and the shark does not return after the initial attack. Because of the unlikelihood of the shark's return to the victim, it is reasonable that this is a mistaken identity attack. Most victims in this case are bit on the leg or foot and are seldom fatal.
    "Bump and bite" attacks: This is a more serious attack, resulting in greater injuries and more fatalities. These attacks normally involve divers or swimmers in deep waters. The shark initially circles and bumps the victim prior to the actual attack. In this case, it is much harder to say it is mistaken identity, although possible in some cases. It could be a hungry or threatened shark.
    "Sneak" attacks: These are the kind that occur without warning and when the shark repeatedly attacks. Injuries are usually severe, often resulting in death. It is believed that these attacks are the result of feeding or antagonistic behaviors.

    If a shark attacks:

    Aggressively defend yourself. Keeping calm and still will not make the shark lose interest at this point. Sharks have sensitive noses, eyes and gills. Try to concentrate your blows in these areas. It has been noted that if what they are biting is overly aggressive, they tend to swim away. There has also been some success with blowing bubbles in their face when diving.

    If you are bitten, get out of the water as efficiently, calmly, and swiftly as possible. While most sharks will not bite again, you cannot rule out a second attack or a second shark.
    Apply pressure immediately to lacerations to reduce the blood flow. Get immediate medical attention, no matter how small the injury. The ocean has a lot of bacteria, so even if the scratch or bite is negligible, an infection is not.

    After reading all this, it would be natural to feel apprehensive about sharks and being in the ocean at all. Please remember, more people are attacked by their own pets than by sharks. Unfortunately for the shark, when they do attack, even if it is a bite believed to distinguish only what the foreign object is, it causes the victim great harm. A shark can generate more than 40,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. That combined with a mouthful of razor sharp teeth and their sheer size is more than enough to invoke great fear and hysteria in people. In spite of their amazing capabilities, very few shark attacks are fatal. It is easy to believe sharks are "bad" because of the damage they can inflict on a person. Truthfully, we are much more of a serious threat to them. People kill thousands of sharks every day and the survival of many species is now threatened. Although no sharks have been considered endangered by the U.S. government, there is serious speculation that several species are endangered.

    Being aware and intelligent about choices you make while in the ocean can reduce your chances of being attacked. It also reduces the horrible reputation pinned on sharks. So, have a good time, but be safe and observe your environment - it is worth your respect.






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