We’ve known for some years now that sharks–especially tiger sharks–seem to love the waters around Maui more than any other Hawaiian island. We reported that story a year ago (click here to read that story). In fact, shark incident data going back two decades shows that Maui waters have hosted a lot more shark incidents than those surrounding any other Hawaiian island.
Now, after two years of research, a new 75-page report that was commissioned by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and written by University of Hawaii and Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology researchers Carl G. Meyer, James M. Anderson, Daniel M. Coffey, Melanie R. Hutchinson, Mark A. Royer and Kim N. Holland goes a long way to explaining why it is that sharks seem to like Maui so much.
Titled Spatial Dynamics of Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo Cuvier) Around Maui and Oahu, the report explains that the waters between Maui, Lanai and Kaho`olawe offer a wonderful habitat for sharks, though researchers still can’t say for certain why Maui saw such an uptick in skark bites in 2013-2014. This very brief excerpt from the new report explains this in greater detail:
Overall, our results suggest the insular shelf surrounding Maui Nui is an important natural habitat for Hawaii tiger sharks, and consequently large tiger sharks are routinely and frequently present in the waters off ocean recreation sites around Maui. This may explain why Maui has had more shark bites than other Main Hawaiian Islands, although we cannot exclude differences in the numbers of ocean recreation activities between Maui and other islands as the primary cause of inter-island differences in shark bite rates. Despite the natural presence of large sharks in waters around Maui, the risk of shark bite remains relatively low and variable between years. Notably, 2015 saw only 1 unprovoked shark bite in Maui waters whereas there were 5-8 bites in 2013-2014. This variability exists even though our tracking data unequivocally show the same large, tagged tiger sharks were present in Maui waters, and visiting Maui ocean recreation sites, throughout the entire 2013-2015 period. Oahu-tagged sharks were also visiting these sites during that period. Thus, even though more unprovoked shark bites occurred around Maui in 2012, 2013 and 2014 than in any previous year since records began, the reasons for these “spikes” remain unclear.
While the research shows a very real shark preference for Maui waters, it doesn’t mean that the odds of getting bitten by a shark are anything beyond remote (far more people die every year from snorkeling, for instance, than shark bites, as this Honolulu Civil Beat story shows). And as far as what we should do about this new understanding that tiger sharks love Maui’s near-shore waters as much as we do, state officials are taking the approach that people should educate themselves and not pretend this isn’t reality (and also that they NOT undertake shark culls, which researchers note have historically done nothing whatsoever to reduce shark incidents).
“This study provided us with important new insights into tiger shark movement behavior around Maui, and helps answer some questions about why that island has led the state recently in shark bites,” said Dr. Bruce Anderson, the administrator for DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), in a Mar. 19 news release from the governor’s office. “We agree with the study’s recommendation that the best approach to reducing numbers of these incidents is to raise public awareness of what people can do to reduce their risk of being bitten. This has been our focus for a long time. People who enter the ocean have to understand and appreciate that it is essentially a wilderness experience. It’s the shark’s house, not ours.”
Click here to read the new report.
Photo: Albert kok/Wikimedia Commons