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Summer of the shark

LIHUE — It’s the summer of the shark.

Typically, between 30 to 40 annual shark attacks are logged across the U.S.

So far this year, 24 attacks have already been reported — three of them in Hawaii. And of the two dozen attacks, one, in Hawaii, was fatal.

So why the spike in shark attacks? Shark experts say it’s actually quite simple: The recent rise in attacks in nearshore U.S. waters is the result of more people spending time in the water. Americans made 2.2 billion visits to beaches in 2010, up from 2 billion in 2001, according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimate.

It’s also getting a closer look here in Hawaii.

A pair of Oahu-based shark experts — Kim Holland and Carl Meyer — are working on an analysis of shark behavior in Hawaiian waters. The report is expected to be released by the end of the year. Holland said he and Meyer are staying tight lipped on the subject until their report is finished.

“It’s a complicated subject that we want to get right,” said Holland, a researcher for Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology’s Shark Research Group.

In North Carolina, there were seven swimmers bitten in the month of June alone. Then there was another attack this past weekend. Typically, the state’s beaches see just one attack per summer.

With so many reports in the last month, are Kauai beachgoers apprehensive about hitting the water?

Lounging on a blanket at Kalapaki Beach Monday afternoon, 26-year-old Jenna Johnston said the thought of an ill-fated shark encounter enters her mind from time to time when she’s in the ocean. But she said it doesn’t stop her from enjoying the water.

“I definitely look around me, but I think I’m just paranoid,” said the California native who spends summers on Kauai. “Rationally, I know that sharks are not out to get you. When they do bite they sort of realize it’s a human and left go and swim away. And even if there are more attacks happening, it’s still rare. I feel like the odds are in my favor.”

Sean Kennealy, 28, admitted he’s a bit frightened by the thought of a dorsal fin cruising at him. It doesn’t keep him out of the water — but it keeps him on high alert.

“I like to think there’s a net that they put out there that separates any sharks from the people in the water,” he joked.

Kauai hasn’t seen a shark attack since October 2013, when one took a bite out of Jeff Horton’s surfboard. Grabbing ahold of the dorsal fin like a braided bull-rope, he punched the shark until it bucked him off and he was able to catch a wave back to shore.

There have been 14 shark attacks in the last 18 years around Kauai. Ten of the victims were surfing when they were attacked. The others were bodyboarding. Seven of the victims were unharmed. Three lost limbs. The nature of the injuries of the other victims range from lacerations to ankle bites.

Tiger sharks were responsible for all the attacks in which the species of shark is known.

While attacks may be relatively rare, sightings aren’t. Fishermen often fish for hammerhead sharks while a sighting closed down Hanalei Bay in the spring.

Down the road at Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor on Monday, Jojo Tsukamoto was looking for sharks.

“I like sharks,” said Tsukamoto, a fisherman. “I catch ‘em for bait.”

Unfortunately, there were no sharks along the shoreline of the marina for Tsukamoto to catch.

Maui is home of the largest number of shark attacks in Hawaiian waters in recent years. There have been 44 attacks there — four of them fatal — since 1995. Florida, meanwhile, has seen the most shark attacks this year with 11 reported incidents.

So far this year Maui has seen two shark attacks — one of them fatal. The other attack in Hawaiian waters this year was a tiger shark attack on the Big island that left the victim severely injured.

Florida, meanwhile, has seen the most shark attacks this year with 11 reported incidents.

Kauai beachgoer Diego Wilson, 31, said he’s not fazed about sharks.

“I’m more worried about who’s peeing around me than I am about seeking a shark fin,” he said.


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