The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

January 17, 2014

Surge in shark attacks causes alarm in Hawaii

MAKENA STATE PARK, Hawaii — After a record year of attacks across the Hawaii archipelago, sharks were not far from Colin Dececco’s mind as the sun went down on the long white strip of sand here on a recent Sunday evening.

He and his daughter had had a close encounter with a reef shark while swimming around the rocky cove at the north end of Makena’s Big Beach that morning. Now, watching a spear fisherman haul in his catch as they strolled by the same spot at sunset, they heard a splash at the edge of his net.

It was an 8-foot tiger shark, one of the most aggressive shark species in Hawaii’s waters and the likely culprit for many of the 14 attacks in 2013, eight of which occurred around Maui, near Makena’s beaches and elsewhere. Releasing his net, the fisherman took off running down the shoreline, shouting for swimmers to get out of the water.

“By then everyone was kind of running,” Dececco said in an interview moments after he and his daughter had scrambled up the rocky cliff above the cove for a better view. “Tiger sharks — you don’t play with them.”

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.

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.

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