“Beach closed due to shark sighting.”
Every so often, a report comes in from the county that ocean safety officials have closed a beach because someone saw a shark. Most recently, Kealia Beach was closed when beachgoers reported seeing two sharks near the shoreline along the north end of the beach. Upon response, lifeguards spotted a roughly eight-foot grey reef shark in the water, the county reported.
As a safety precaution, ocean safety officials closed Kealia Beach to swimming until further notice and signs were posted to warn all beachgoers of the shark sighting. The beach remained closed the next day when lifeguards reassessed it and decided it was safe to open
Which raises the question: If you spot a shark in the water, even a small one, do you need to report it? Sharks certainly come and go around piers and shorelines often, are not spotted and nothing happens. Shark incidents are rare. Seems like beaches would be closed far more often if every shark sighting was reported. It could be that most locals simply don’t bother to mention it when they spot a shark. After all, this is an island and there are plenty of sharks out there.
I admit, I have twice spotted small sharks in Hanalei Bay and did not alert lifeguards. The first time, years ago, it surfaced pretty much right next to my wife just a few feet off the shoreline. She didn’t believe me when first I told her a shark was nearby and she should leave the water, but did when I insisted. I watched as it cruised along in a few feet of water before heading out.
Last month, on a sunny Sunday morning, we jumped off the pier and went swimming in the calm, clear water. About 10 minutes later, back on the pier, I heard a boy telling his friends there was a shark off the pier. I went to look and, sure enough, there was the outline of a small shark cruising around, surfacing once, right where we had been swimming. I watched as it disappeared into the deep. I would have been shaken if a shark appeared while I was floating around.
Nothing happened either time, and it didn’t occur to me to report either incident.
Turns out, I should have.
I checked in with the county on what to do if a shark is spotted. Big or small, let someone in authority know. Here is what the county said:
“Yes, if a shark is sighted at a county lifeguarded beach, it should be reported to a lifeguard. The lifeguard will assess the area and verify the sighting.
“Once verified, the lifeguard will advise no swimming at the beach and clear people out of the water. In addition, signs are posted. Typically, the beach is closed for 24 hours or overnight. Officials will then reassess the beach the next morning.
“If a shark is sighted at a non-lifeguarded beach, reports should be made to the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources.”
Again, while it’s likely that sharks come and go routinely near people without incident, if you see one, don’t assume it will leave the area and nothing will happen. You don’t need to start screaming, “Shark!” That could cause some to panic. But do let authorities know you saw a shark. Doing so might keep someone else safe.