State to study shark behavior after ‘unprecedented spike’ in incidents

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Over the past two decades, there’s variation year-to-year in the number of shark incidents in Hawaii.

But with the highest recorded number last year and a spike this year, many are asking why?

“The prevailing theory on why this could be is we have a lot more people in the water in Hawaii and it’s been almost 40, 50 years since those last shark culling events,” Department of Land and Natural Resources Director William Aila said.

In the past, after deadly shark attacks, the state initiated a major shark control program to hunt these large predators. It’s a move the DLNR says won’t happen anytime soon.

“With eight million visitors coming to Hawaii, we need to spend more time educating them in a more cultural and traditional method,” Hawaiian surfer and waterman Tom Pohaku Stone said.

Stone has master’s degree in Pacific Island Studies.

“I was taught to have respect for a period of time when Wiliwili is blooming, which is coral trees, so when that’s in bloom, we know not to go in certain areas or be very cautious when in the water,” Stone said.

He says same goes for October through December. Traditional knowledge, the DLNR says, is backed up by state statistics showing shark incidents increase in those months.

“As we continue to use modern scientific methods to study these animals, we find many instances where the info obtained fits in with what Hawaiians have known all along,” said Carl Meyer, with the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

Next Month, Meyer will help lead a two-year study to track the movement of tiger sharks around Maui County and see how their behavior compares with other studies around the state.

“We will be looking specifically to see if there is any evidence of greater residency or greater use of shallow habitats by tiger sharks in Maui waters,” Meyer said.

The results of the study will determine what management options should be considered.

Olowalu Beach on Maui is an example. After a history of shark attacks, it’s the only beach where warning signs are posted year-round, alerting swimmers that sharks may be present.

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