“People that come from the mainland have no respect for anything, neither the ocean nor the land,” Alesna said. “We grew up knowing, by the elders, what we can and cannot do in certain times of the year.”
Like many longtime residents and fishermen here, Alesna offers myriad theories for the rise in shark attacks. She questions whether the tsunami in Japan increased the level of radiation in the water, driving sharks closer to shore. (State officials say radiation levels are normal.) She argues that the recovery of the population of Hawaiian green sea turtles — protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1978 — is luring sharks closer to the beach, and she says it’s time for officials to allow hunting the turtles again.
But Carl Meyer, a marine biologist leading the University of Hawaii study, said there was no evidence to support that theory, or many of the others he had heard. Turtles, for example, are just one part of the broad diet favored by tiger sharks, which are known as the “garbage cans” of the ocean. He also dismisses the frequently cited notion that there are more tiger sharks in the water and that they are hungrier than in past years.
One known fact, Meyer said, is that there are more kayak fisherman, kite surfers and paddle boarders than a few decades ago — and the study will look at whether tiger sharks are more prevalent in areas of Maui where those sports are most popular.
A website where people can track the movements of the sharks tagged by Meyer and his team has fascinated many tourists and other ocean visitors. Both the state and the university hope it will generate curiosity about sharks, rather than fear, in the midst of renewed debate over whether there should be a shark culling program, which would face fierce resistance among native Hawaiians who consider sharks to be a sacred protector.