Sharks aren’t out to get you

Seven attacks in last 10 years off Kaua’i

By LESTER CHANG

TGI

Staff Writer

LIHU’E – In the wake of a shark biting the leg of a French

boardsailor off Maui Aug. 15, Kaua’i beachgoers should not fret about being the

next victim of a shark attack, says a federal marine biologist.

Over the

past 10 years, only seven shark attacks have occurred off Kaua’i waters , said

John Naughton of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The shark attacks

are unfortunate, but the number of attacks is not high and there are no

indications they will increase, Naughton said.

A Kaua’i beachgoer is more

likely to be injured driving to the beach than he or she would be attacked by a

shark, he said.

He maintained “it is safe in the water.” But people should

use common sense and avoid conditions that increase the risk of shark attacks,

including swimming in murky water and swimming alone, in remote spots and at

dawn and dusk when some sharks come to shore.

For the past 30 years, there

have been an average of two shark attacks yearly in Hawaiian waters, Naughton

said. Last year, there were reports of 65 shark attacks worldwide.

The

majority of attacks on Kaua’i occurred mostly at surfing beaches along the

North Shore and in West Kaua’i, Naughton said.

The last attack on Kaua’i

occurred near Majors Bay off the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Mana

on Oct. 19, 1997. A surfer lost a foot.

In another incident in the late

1990s, a visitor to Kaua’i suffered a two-inch gash while swimming off Kaua’i,

Naughton said.

“We are not convinced it was a shark attack,” he said. “It

might have been (inflicted by a) moral eel or barracuda.”

In a shark attack

off Maui on Aug. 15, Jean Alain Goenvec said he had fallen off his sailboard

about a mile off Kahana Beach Park when he saw a splash about 30 yards away and

then saw a shark he estimated to be 12 to 15 feet long approach him.

He

climbed on the board, but felt his leg caught under the knee. The shark, he

said, shook its head, released his leg and swam away.

It was a half-hour

before an airline pilot, who had been sailboarding in the area, noticed

Goenvec’s call for help and summoned a lifeguard.

Goenvec was brought

ashore and was last reported in stable condition at Maui Memorial Hospital,

where he is recovering from a massive leg wound.

The type of shark

involved in the attack on Goenvec has not been identified, but the “bite and

run” behavior is typical of tiger sharks, according to Naughton.

Forty

species of sharks ply the waters off Hawai’i. The sandbar shark, which eats

mostly fish, is the most abundant, followed by tiger sharks, the most dangerous

shark in Hawaiian waters. Most of the shark attacks in Hawai’i are attributed

to tiger sharks.

Tiger sharks have these characteristics:

* They come

close to shore in the fall and stay through spring.

* They are attracted to

stream mouths after heavy rains, when upland fish and other animals are swept

out to sea.

* They eat fish, lobsters, birds, turtles, dead animals and

garbage.

* They attack humans by mistake, thinking they are seals and

turtles, which are part of the sharks’ diet, Naughton said.

The death of a

woman snorkeler off Maui by a tiger shark in November 1991, and other shark

attacks in the state prompted the formation of a shark task force by the state

Department of Land and Natural Resources in the early 1990s. The group,

comprised of National Marine Fishers Service, state and county officials and

the University of Hawai’i, worked on solutions to reduce the number of

attacks.

The board of DLNR placed the group on inactive status after a

drop-off in attacks in 1993. But the task force was reactivated in 1999, when

six shark attacks were reported.

In spite of the attacks,, there are no

plans to begin hunting sharks because they are an integral part of the marine

ecosystem, including serving as scavengers, Naughton said.

Staff

writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and

lchang@pulitzer.net

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