HANALEI — Hanalei, Haena and Kalapaki are some of the most popular beaches on Kauai, but it’s not just people that frequent these places, sharks sometimes like to hang there, too.
That’s particularly important to remember this month, according to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“October is the month with the greatest number of shark bites,” said Department of Aquatic Resources administrator Bruce Anderson in a news release to The Garden Island. “We recommend ocean users exercise a little more caution this month especially, and also through the end of the year.”
Thus far, no October bites have been fatal, according to DLNR.
Since January, TGI has reported six shark sightings and/or encounters on Kauai. They all occurred off of Hanalei, Kalapaki, and Haena beaches.
In two of those incidents injury occurred. The first was in January when a Minnesota man reported a shark near Hanalei Pier and who had lacerations on his hands after the encounter.
Also in January, a 15-year-old surfer, Kaya Waldman, said a tiger shark caught ahold of her surfboard leash and dragged her underwater. She told TGI after the incident that she was able to free herself and flee to safety.
The second injury was in June when a surfer reported seeing a shark at Kalapaki Beach and another surfer suffered a single puncture wound to his arm.
Statewide from 1980 through 2015 there were 122 unprovoked shark bites. Of those, 26 bites, which is 21 percent, occurred during the month of October.
And the number of shark bites in October has been increasing over the past four years. According to DAR, there were two bites in October 2012, three bites in October 2013, four in October 2014, and three in October 2015. Last year, the October shark bites all happened on Oahu and within the span of 20 days.
The majority of bites occur when people are surfing, according to data from DLNR. Swimming, spearfishing and then other types of fishing follow that activity.
University of Hawaii researchers have confirmed the autumn spike in bite numbers, according to DLNR, and theorize the rise in bites is a result of a rise in shark numbers around the islands in the fall.
About 25 percent of the female tiger sharks in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands migrate to the main islands to give birth in the fall, according to DLNR, and that increases the numbers of tiger sharks in nearshore waters.
Around Kauai, tiger sharks are the most reported of the shark species, though hammerheads, galapagos, and reef sharks have been reported as well.
While science is teasing out a reason behind the apparent autumnal shark migration toward the lower Hawaiian Islands, for years traditional cultural knowledge has been teaching of an increased shark risk in autumn.
A traditional Hawaiian chant, for example, warns of increased bites in the fall, when the wiliwili tree blooms: Pua ka wiliwili nanahu ka mano. That translates to “When the wiliwili tree flowers, the shark bites.”
Kauai kumu Sabra Kauka said she’s not familiar with that specific chant, but she said sharks do hold a place of honor among the Hawaiian culture. In fact, there’s a haiau in Nu’alolo on Kauai’s North Shore dedicated to the shark god Ku-hai-moana.
Recently, Kauka learned some chants relating to sharks and their migration to the Hawaiian Islands for the World Conservation Congress on Oahu last month.
“The chants we learned told us of the migration of the sharks from the South Pacific to Hawaii, and that with these migrations the sharks led the human migrations,” Kauka said. “They could sense the heath and energy that was coming from the volcano.”
More often than not, it’s dolphins that Kauka spies in the seas off the shores of Kauai, but she said when she was young she was often warned of sharks by her dad and uncles.
“You’re warned as a child to not go in the ocean when it’s murky and we always learned that as kids when we learned to surf or do anything,” Kauka said. “My dad and uncles never let us go in the water when it was murky because there was a good chance of shark attack.”
Murky conditions are also a red flag for DLNR and the entity urges people to stay out of the water because it impairs your field of vision, and also the shark’s.
“The best thing ocean users can do to minimize their risk of shark bites is to utilize beaches with lifeguards, stay near other people, and don’t go too far from shore,” Anderson said in the news release. “Also, avoid murky water and areas near stream mouths.”