A man died after an apparent shark attack in Kaanapali on Maui, Saturday.
The victim is a 65-year-old Thomas Smiley from Granite Bay, California. The news of his passing is tragic, but one shark expert said fatal shark attacks are extremely rare.
Family of the victim said he went out for a swim at Honokowai Point near Kaanapali Beach Park not long before he was pulled from the water.
Maui fire officials said a witness in a nearby hotel called 911 just before 9 a.m.
The 65-year-old man was pulled ashore with traumatic, life-threatening injuries consistent with a shark attack.
I reached out to shark expert, Dr. Michael Domeier.
“It’s a gut wrenching thing when it happens. And we all think about it when we hear about it on the news and no one wants to be on that part of the food chain,” Dr. Michael Domeier said.
Domeier has been studying sharks for over 30 years. He said shark attacks are rare, and fatal attacks even rarer still.
“Your chances of getting attacked by a shark and even not surviving are less than one in 12 million. Maui has a bit of traffic in the morning. That’s actually more dangerous than getting into the ocean.”
Saturday’s attack is the sixth shark attack in Hawaii so far this year, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources website.
There were three in 2018, and out of over 120 attacks on record since 1995, this is only the fifth fatal attack in the islands.
All five of those deadly attacks occurred on Maui. The last fatal attack happened on April 29, 2015. The victim was snorkeling in Ahihi Bay, Kanahena Point, Maui.
“Maui has for some reason been a hot spot in the Hawaiian islands for tiger shark attacks, and I don’t think anybody can really say with any certainly why that is. There’s certainly great tiger shark habitat on Maui, a lot of shallow water, but a lot of people in the water too,” Domeier explained.
Maui officials said the victim in Saturday’s deadly attack was pulled from water roughly 20-25 feet deep. Winds were light, surf was barely a foot, and water conditions were clear.
Domeier said a tiger shark could be to blame for this attack, but that has not been confirmed yet.
He added that there is a possibility it was a different type of shark.
“Galapagos sharks, which actually surprised me, have been a little aggressive on Oahu. A guy was knocked off his paddle board on Diamond Head, and then a woman was bitten in the arm on the North Shore of Oahu. And then the A-bay attack, when the woman got severely bitten in the leg, now DLNR attributes that to a Galapagos shark,” Domeier said.
Maui fire officials said they did not see any sharks in their initial search of the area, however, shark sighted signs are posted along Honokowai Point.
Domeier said he hopes people’s views about the ocean don’t change due to this tragedy.
Out of 400 species of sharks, only four are really considered dangerous.
“We do have one of them, that’s tiger sharks. And if you’re swimming, you’re putting yourself out there a little bit. But I live on the Big Island. People are training for the Iron Man all the time and (shark attacks) just happen so rarely I don’t think you should be more worried about that than your drive to work.”
“It’s very unlikely it’s going to happen to you. But use your common sense. If you’ve got a weird feeling, don’t go in the water. Don’t get in water after a storm when there’s a lot of dirty water. Go with friends, being by yourself you might be a little bit more vulnerable. And spear fishing, that’s the most dangerous activity when it comes to sharks…you do not want to be dragging a string of fish around hooked to your belt, that’s asking for trouble,” Domeier said.