NAPALI COAST — A tour-boat operator jumped on a shark to protect a solitary snorkeler earlier this month.
Kapa‘a resident Caleb Mennenga said he first noticed the 5-to-6-foot shark when it began circling near a large group of snorkelers associated with his boat.
“The tourists found it. We asked, ‘Is the fin black?’ and he says, ‘No, it’s not,’” said Mennenga, who asked to withhold the name of his employer.
“It then swam over to the woman who was by herself, kind of checking her out,” he continued. “She was scared.”
The shark darted at the woman when she began swimming toward the boat. Concerned by its speed, Mennenga jumped into the water directly above the shark, grazing it in the process. The animal swiftly disappeared.
The entire incident occurred in less than two minutes, according to Mennenga, who said he was unable to identify the shark’s species.
“I don’t know if it was a tiger shark or not,” he said. “But I don’t know of any blacktips or any other sharks that get aggressive like that. It definitely was not scared of humans.”
Kim Holland, leader of the Shark Lab at the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, was not surpised when he learned of the incident. He described the shark’s investigative behavior as “probably quite common,” when approached by The Garden Island for comment.
“Just because they’re checking things out doesn’t mean to say they’re actually going to do anything about it,” Holland said. “But on the other hand, they’re always curious, and once they realize that they’re not going to have that element of surprise, or they are themselves surprised, they tend to be quite easily spooked.”
Shark bites are very rare.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources reports three to four incidents occur per year on average, making the odds of being bitten by a shark less than one in a million. The chance of serious injury is even less.
Although risk is “really, really low” in Hawai‘i, Holland said no one should ever swim alone.
“From both a preventative perspective and also in terms of responding to an attack, being in the water by yourself is the worst thing to do,” he explained.
“Try and go in the water where there’s already somebody else in there, even if you don’t know them. If there’s more people in the water, your chances of surviving an attack or avoiding an attack are improved,” said Holland.
“Given the thousands of people in the water every day, and given the fact that we know tiger sharks are quite common in Hawai‘i, the really astounding thing is how few attacks are happening, not how many,” Holland said.
Scott Yunker, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.