The Seattle Times and several other media outlets are reporting that 2013 was record year of shark attacks across the Hawaii archipelago with eight of those attacks occurring in Maui alone.
According to the report, the eight-foot tiger shark is one of the most aggressive shark species in Hawaii’s waters and the likely culprit for many of the 14 attacks in 2013.
In a state where tourism drives the economy, the uptick in shark encounters has alarmed visitors and business owners alike. Both 2013 fatalities — a German snorkeler and a Washington state kayak fisherman — occurred in the waters near Makena State Park.
But there are no permanent warning signs here on a coastline that boasts luxury hotels including the Four Seasons Resort Maui and the Waldorf Astoria’s Grand Wailea, according to The Seattle Times report.
The Associated Press (AP) reported back in August that Hawaii will plan to spend the next two years studying tiger shark movements around Maui amid what they call an unprecedented spike in overall shark attacks since the start of 2012.
There were 10 attacks in 2012. Hawaii usually sees only three to four attacks each year, and saw one or zero attacks in 11 years between 1980 and 2012, according to state data.
For years, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources has posted signs and closed the beach immediately after an attack until noon the next day, if officials on helicopter and Jet Ski patrols believe the shark has left the vicinity. And for now, they see no need to change that policy.
So far, the increases in attacks in 2012 and 2013 — which followed three years in which there were just three shark attacks annually — do not appear to have affected tourism. More than 2.1 million people visited Maui last year, figures that Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau, said she had not seen since before the recession.
There is no question, however, that many swimmers and snorkelers are adjusting their routines based on the location of encounters. No pattern has emerged linking the likelihood of an attack with the distance from shore: The kayak fisherman was 900 yards off Makena; the German snorkeler was 50 yards offshore. But a number of tourists said in interviews that they were not swimming out as far.
A website where people can track the movements of the sharks tagged by Meyer and his team has fascinated many tourists and other ocean visitors (oos.soest.hawaii.edu/pacioos/projects/sharks/).
Both the state and the university hope it will generate curiosity about sharks, rather than fear, in the midst of renewed debate over whether there should be a shark culling program, which would face fierce resistance among native Hawaiians who consider sharks to be a sacred protector.
The fact that are very few shark attacks relative to how many millions of people are in the water is something of a credo here — from waiters to dive guides, locals are quick to point out that visitors are more likely to die in their cars on the way to the beach.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for more updates on this story.