A two-year-long study sheds light on the movement and behavior of sharks in Hawaii.
A spike in shark bites off Maui in 2012 and 2013 prompted the Department of Land and Natural Resources to commission the study, which involved tagging and monitoring tiger sharks.
A team from the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Marine Biology found that sharks preferred the “Maui Nui complex,” which consists of Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe.
“Tiger sharks captured around Maui spend most of their time on the extensive Maui Nui insular shelf, which is also an attractive habitat for tiger sharks arriving from elsewhere in Hawaii,” explained Carl Meyer, principle investigator for the study. “The insular shelf extends offshore from the shoreline to depths of 200 meters (600 feet), and is home to a wide variety of tiger shark prey.”
Experts also say shark behavior isn’t changing. There are just more people in the water as ocean recreation becomes more and more popular.
“We found that tiger sharks visit these ocean recreation sites at all times of the day and night. There’s no distinct day or pattern in their visits, and the pattern of shark bites is actually driven by our human behavior, not by shark behavior, so it’s when we are in the water and there are sharks present,” Meyer said.
As for the 2012-2014 spike in shark bites around Maui, Meyer said the reasons remain unclear. He noted, “2015 saw only one unprovoked shark bite off Maui. Shark behavior didn’t change year to year, and there was no shift in human behavior. These spikes occur all over the world, and are most likely due to chance.”
Researchers say the best way to reduce shark attacks and bites is to raise public awareness.
“The fact that relatively few bites occur despite near-daily visits by large tiger sharks to high use recreation sites, suggests that tiger sharks are mostly disinterested in, or actively avoiding, people,” the study said. “Efforts are currently underway to inform and educate people about the risks of ocean-drownings in Hawaii, a natural hazard that is an order of magnitude more frequent than shark bites. These efforts could be expanded to include shark bite facts. A well-informed public can make their own fact-based decisions on ocean use.”