There have been five shark attacks on Maui this year, and the state of Hawaii has commissioned a research team to figure out why.
The team just completed the first phase of a multi-part shark tagging initiative. Fourteen tiger sharks and one sandbar shark were tagged this week in an effort to track shark behavior and whereabouts around Maui.
Maui’s attacks account for half of the total shark attacks in Hawaii this year. This week, a 45-year-old man was swimming 50 yards offshore when an aggressive reef shark grabbed him. He was able to elbow and kick the shark away, but in August Jana Lutteropp was not so lucky. The 20-year-old girl was attacked by a tiger shark and died in a hospital a week later.
Carl Meyer of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology told Hawaii News Now that what is to account for the disproportionate attacks off Maui is not immediately apparent. “Whether these recent shark bite incidents are best explained by pure chance and perhaps an ever increasing number of people who are engaged in ocean recreation or whether in fact there are some substantive differences in the way that sharks behave around Maui” is unclear according to Meyer.
But the stakes are high for the island. The attacks have been highly publicized, and Maui, like all of Hawaii, is heavily dependent on tourism revenue. The island has been voted the best island in the world 20 years in a row by Conde Nast Traveler’s readers’ choice awards, but if its waters start to be perceived as more dangerous than blissful, it will not bode well for the Valley Isle.
At one point Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa briefly considered installing shark nets like the ones employed by the Australian and South African governments to fend off great whites. The mayor decided to pass, blaming the uptick on environmental changes and putting the onus on those on land: “I don’t think we’re going to have a huge escalation unless we keep acting silly and depleting all of the natural resources and dirtying up the resources ... What we really need to do is build up the fish population. We really need to start working on cleaning the ocean and making sure we’re not putting so much sediment and rubbish in the ocean -- then, I think things will settle down.”