The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

January 17, 2014

Surge in shark attacks causes alarm in Hawaii


“There is no pattern. There are spikes; there are lulls,” said William Aila Jr., the department’s chairman. But shortly after the German tourist died in August, the state agency announced a two-year, $186,000 study by University of Hawaii researchers to determine whether tiger sharks spend more time in areas used for ocean recreation around Maui than the other islands.

So far, the increases in attacks in 2012 and 2013 — which followed three years in which there were just three shark attacks annually — do not appear to have affected tourism. More than 2.1 million people visited Maui last year, figures that Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau, said she had not seen since before the recession.

“I think people realize it is still a rare occurrence,” Vencl said in an email.

There is no question, however, that many swimmers and snorkelers are adjusting their routines based on the location of encounters. No pattern has emerged linking the likelihood of an attack with the distance from shore: The kayak fisherman was 900 yards off Makena; the German snorkeler was 50 yards offshore. But a number of tourists said in interviews that they were not swimming out as far.

“I went in waist-deep, that was it,” said Karen O’Brien, a 49-year-old tourist from Toronto. Last year, O’Brien snorkeled off Molokini, a small island off the southwest coast of Maui. But after reading that the kayak fisherman was attacked near Molokini, she said, “I wasn’t interested.”

Island native Lorraine Alesna, who has long fished at Makena Landing — a popular launching spot for kayakers and snorkelers — shook her head at the jet skiers, kite surfers and other tourists who zoomed into the waves without paying attention to pupping season for sharks (the winter months), or common-sense tips like avoiding turbid water that attracts them.

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