Officials to review shark protocols in light of increased attacks, sightings

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The state says it will review its protocols to address public safety, communication, and response in light of recent shark attacks and sightings.

On Wednesday afternoon, a 10-year-old boy was attacked off Makaha Beach Park. He suffered injuries to his right leg and was hospitalized in serious condition.

It’s the seventh shark attack reported in Hawaii this year.

According to Dr. Bruce Anderson, administrator of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), the last reported shark incident in the area occurred 46 years ago, when a surfer’s board was bit and the surfer injured.

He adds that there has been an increase in shark incidents over the years, due in part to more people being in the water and more ocean activities that involve people venturing farther out into the ocean.

Anderson says although recent response appears to be working, DAR will still go over its protocols to ensure everything is up-to-date.

“The last time our protocols were reviewed was about 20 years ago,” Anderson said. “DLNR is doing a top-to-bottom review of our shark response protocols. We are going to be working closely with the county, making sure everyone knows who to call when. Our objective is to make sure we are protecting public safety as much as possible and communicating as best we can.”

Meanwhile, the city’s Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services is assessing whether additional watercraft may be needed.

The division has six watercraft stationed around the island: two on the North Shore and one to patrol Makaha, Kailua, Metro Honolulu and Sandy Beach.

“If we could have craft that are actually stationed at beaches, we can cut the response time dramatically,” said acting operations chief Kevin Allen.

Officials say they are weighing the cost of acquiring more watercraft, including money and staffing.

“We will look at any requests made by our lifeguards for additional watercraft or other things they need,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “In addition to a watercraft, when you buy another one, you obviously need another lifeguard to operate it, so we also have to grow our lifeguards and that’s important too.”

KHON2 reached out to other counties.

Officials on Maui and Hawaii Island say they too could use more rescue watercraft, so crews can patrol the waters and respond even faster.

In Hawaii County, the deputy fire chief says if there is a shark sighting, a chopper is sent up to survey the area. They have four watercraft.

On Maui, rescue watercraft are stationed at seven beaches with lifeguards. There are three backups.

Kauai has three watercraft.

Anderson said shark incidents naturally increase during October and November, during pupping season.

Less than two weeks ago, a man was swimming off Lanikai Beach when he was attacked by a 10- to 12-foot tiger shark. He suffered severe injuries to his legs.

Earlier this month, a 25-year-old surfer, Colin Cook, lost his leg after a shark attack off Oahu’s North Shore, near the popular surf spot known as Leftovers.

Anderson said that people need to understand that there are dangers going out into the ocean, and that wild animals are dangerous.

He says it’s best to stay out of the ocean when the water is murky and after heavy rains, as there is a possibility of animals being washed out into the ocean.

Anyone who spots a shark should notify a lifeguard or call 911, officials said.

Kevin Allen of Ocean Safety says there are specific protocols in place for sightings and attacks.

“If it’s a sighting, we will post signs, inform the public. We will try to get the word out to different agencies,” he said.

In the case of an attack, Au says their first priority is to get patient to shore and start treatment. After that, watercraft and mobile units are deployed to inform the public and air assets may be asked to check for sharks in the area.

“One thing we don’t do is, ocean safety does not close beaches,” he noted. “We don’t have the authority to do that, so really, we’ve got a duty to warn.”

Warning signs are left in place for a few hours after a sighting and until at least noon the next day after a bite.

Officials noted that some people still disregard their warnings.

The state is awaiting the results of a two-year shark study commissioned by DLNR to track tiger shark movements in Hawaii.

“One of the factors that seem to be evident, sharks are more prevalent in areas with water that is less than 600 feet,” Anderson said.

Anderson also noted that culling is ineffective and detrimental to Hawaii’s ecosystem.

“The scientists who study the shark movement and behavior have noted for some time now that sharks have a wide range and don’t stay in the same place for long,” he said.

Click here for more information about sharks in Hawaii.

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