What’s Up With Shark Sightings

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - September 24, 2008
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In this Honolulu Star-Bulletin file photo from Jan. 29, 1957, Filomeno Patacsil, a fisherman who lived on an island off Sand Island, rides an 800-pound tiger shark that five other men helped him subdue and tie up securely after it got stuck in Patacsil’s fishing net

Todd Murashige searches for words as he recalls watching a shark sweep beneath his surf-board.

“It just seemed so surreal, like it wasn’t real,” says the Kaneohe father of two.

Murashige was sitting on his surfboard several hundred yards offshore at a break called Crouching Lion - his legs dangling on both sides. Seconds later, a large shark took a massive bite out of his right leg. The 40-year-old Murashige suffered severe wounds, but is expected to walk again.

The attack was very real, but considered a rare event.

“The odds of being bitten by a shark are less than one in a million in Hawaiian waters, and we seem to average about four or five bites per year,” says Randy Honebrink, spokesman for the state Shark Task Force.

So far this year there have been two confirmed attacks. In late July, a woman was bitten on her arm just outside Lahilahi Point near Makaha Beach. Some feel that’s two too many, especially when you consider the sudden surge of shark sightings across the state. The multiple reports recently triggered action by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“An increased level of shark sightings during the past month or so prompted the department to take the unusual step of issuing a caution to ocean users,” says Honebrink. “It’s often been the case that shark sightings occur in spikes, probably because people look for them more carefully when they hear such reports.”

According to the DLNR, reports have come from all across Hawaii:

Aug. 26, 2008: Confirmed sighting of a 10-12 foot shark at Anaeho’omalu Bay on the Big Island.

Aug. 30, 2008: Missing swimmer reported near MacKenzie State Park on the Big Island. Search attempts encounter the presence of what’s believed to be a great white shark.

Sept. 2, 2008: Confirmed shark sighting near Hapuna Beach on the Big Island.

Sept. 3, 2008: Confirmed shark sightings at Kukio and Mauna Kea Beach Resort.

Sept. 6, 2008: Confirmed shark sighting at Hapuna Beach.

Sept. 8-9, 2008: 10-15 sharks feeding on school of fish outside Mauna Kea Beach Resort.

Sept. 9, 2008: Large shark bites Todd Murashige near Kahana Bay.

Sept. 10, 2008: Confirmed shark sightings near Kawaihae Harbor.

Sept. 11, 2008: A 10-foot shark is spotted off Chun’s Reef on Oahu’s North Shore.

Sept. 14, 2008: Shark spotted at Waimanalo Beach Park.

In all cases, shark-sighting signs were posted and in some areas, the beaches were closed. “It’s not known if the sightings are a departure from the norm, but sharks are certainly found in our near shore waters and generally leave people alone,” says Honebrink

Some have speculated the increase in monk seals and green sea turtles in Hawaiian waters is bringing sharks closer to shore. Shark experts disagree, saying although more turtles are surfacing closer to shore, they are not seeing more attacks on them. Others suggest the increase in ocean activities is putting more people in the water, creating more opportunities for trouble.

“There are a number of dangerous marine organisms, and sharks are just one group,” says Honebrink.

The recent incidents have also triggered talk of revisiting shark eradication programs. Between 1959 and 1976, the state spent more than $300,000 to run the programs. As a result, more than 4,600 sharks were killed. Native Hawaiians balk at the idea because some sharks are considered family gods or ‘aumakua.

There is no definitive explanation for the recent events, and there may not be a definitive solution. In the end, the answer to both may be the obvious.

“People who use the ocean should know and understand the risks,” says Honebrink.

It’s a risk Todd Murashige knew he was taking, as do thousands of others who enter the ocean every day.

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