Kristen Porter of Annapolis, Md., was sitting on a floatie at Kuhio Beach around 3 p.m. Sunday, July 29, when out of nowhere, something bit her.
“My feet were dangling down and I was there for hours, so I was completely surprised that all of a sudden something attacked my foot,” she said.
“I couldn’t believe it, but I knew immediately that it was something bad, and it wasn’t just like a fish nibble, so I pulled my foot into the air and there was blood everywhere,” she continued.
Porter’s son and two strangers helped get her out of the water. Once on land, a lifeguard told her it was an eel bite.
“It was quite painful,” Porter said.
Waikiki Aquarium director Andrew Rossiter was surprised to hear about the bite, because eels are active at night and prefer rocky areas.
“I think the beach she was at, I don’t think there’s big rocky areas over there, so it’s very unusual, very mysterious,” he said.
Porter said she was in shock when it happened, but remembers seeing sand and rocks nearby, but doesn’t remember what she was over when she was bit.
Rossiter said there are five or six eel species in Hawaii that could cause a bite like the one Porter had.
After looking at the photos, Rossiter believes the suspect was a moray eel. After looking at the bite, he said the eel was at least five feet in length. He adds that big moray eels can be found in just five feet in water, even in Waikiki.
Rossiter says moray eels can reach up to 10 feet in length and swallow their prey whole and they can attack quickly.
“How fast are they? Just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “(They’re) incredibly rapid and even a diver will tell you to stay away from them in the water because they can come out and ping you in the blink of an eye.”
Rossiter says if the eel was over sand, it could have been attracted to a certain smell, possibly if someone nearby was gutting a fish.
Dr. Kalani Brady, who is also a dive master, says eel attacks are incredibly rare.
“Eel attacks are quite rare. Basically, eels aren’t aggressive to humans,” he said. “If they feel trapped or if a human sticks their foot down in a hole, they may defensively bite.”
Up until Thursday, Aug. 2, officials were unsure if it was a shark or an eel bite, but Brady says eel attacks cause thin lines of gashes, like Porter had.
Both Rossiter and Brady say if anyone is in the same situation Porter was in, don’t pull away from the eel as it could cause more damage.
“(This bite) was definitely a case of mistaken identity, because the eel’s teeth penetrate, so they literally pierce their prey and swallow their pray whole, so I doubt the eel was trying to swallow the lady whole,” Rossiter said.
The International Shark File in Florida confirmed Porter’s bite was from an eel on Thursday.
As for Porter, she says she’ll come back to Hawaii again.
“I do love it here, and again statistically, there’s no way I can be bitten twice, I think. The odds are in my favor,” Porter said.