Recent Death In Maui

On Saturday, May, 25  2019 a 65 year old man died from a shark bite while swimming at a distance of 180 ft. from shore at Honokowai Point in Maui.

This incident is terribly sad, and the heart of every employee of The Snorkel Store and our community in Maui and on the mainland goes out to this man’s family and friends.

This tragedy has created an increased interest in sharks and their relationship to people recreating in the ocean in Maui. In this article we will share The Snorkel Store’s perspective on the subject of shark bites and we’ll offer facts and information you can use to ensure your own ocean safety.

What Happened In This Specific Incident?

The victim was a 65 year old man who was swimming for exercise at a great distance from shore in Honokowai. He was bitten by a shark during his swim and he died from loss of blood before reaching the hospital.


Here is a news video from Hawaii News Now reporting on the event.

Scientists and researchers do not have conclusive answers to common questions such as: Why do sharks bite people? Why did this shark bite occur now? Why did this shark bite occur in this location?

Drawing on years of experience living on the island of Maui, The Snorkel Store would like to share a few of our observations related to this specific incident:

  1. This shark bite took place a great distance from shore—180 feet: Most snorkelers in Maui recreate in the ocean at a distance of between 30 and 45 feet from shore.
  2. Honokowai River spills into the ocean at this point: This area of the ocean is often murky because the  Honokowai River flows into the sea here. Swimming in brackish, murky or brown water is unadvisable for a variety of safety reasons (see below).
  3. This occurred in open water—not in a bay: Swimming in geographically protected areas such as Kapalua Bay, Napili Bay or Black Rock are recommended to minimize exposure to the open ocean.

We feel it is worth commenting that this man’s activity in the ocean was very different from the way the vast majority of The Snorkel Store’s customers recreate in the ocean in Maui.

How Common Are Shark Bites In Hawaii?

Shark bites are extremely rare. In fact, the chance of being bitten by a shark in Hawaii is less than 1 in 1 million. 

  • The chance of being seriously injured by a shark bite is far less than 1 in a million
  • Shark bites most often occur at great distances from shore
  • You’re more in danger of dying from falling into a hole at the beach than from a shark bite
  • About 1 person dies per year from a shark bite in the U.S.
  • Shark bites in Florida are much more common than in Hawaii
  • There are 15 times more deaths in 1 year from car crashes in Hawaii than from all the deaths from shark bites over the past 75 years combined

What Can I Do To Minimize The Risk?

If there’s any good news about the understandably scary subject matter of sharks, it’s this: If you follow simple guidelines, you will nearly eliminate your risk of encountering a shark entirely.

Follow these tips to minimize your risk of ever encountering a shark:

  1. Stay close to shore – Most of The Snorkel Store’s customers snorkel at between 10 to 15 yards from shore. Further out, visibility is less clear, and likelihood of encountering a shark increases. Maui’s most popular attractions for snorkeling, green sea turtles, are often found close to shore because they enjoy eating algae off rocks.
  2. Always snorkel with a buddy – The ocean can be unpredictable and dangerous. Snorkel with a partner to reduce your overall risk while snorkeling. Never snorkel alone, especially in an area of the ocean where no other groups of snorkelers are present.
  3. Steer clear of turbid, murky, brown or brackish water – Nothing good happens where underwater visibility is limited. Snorkel in areas of the ocean that are clear. Also, murky water contains nutrients churned up from the bottom of the ocean that could potentially attract sharks.
  4. Snorkel during daylight hours. At night, underwater visibility decreases (obviously), the chance of encountering a shark increases, and assistance is limited if you find yourself in danger. Recreate in the ocean during the day time.
  5. Wear neutral colors – Remove bright, shiny jewelry before entering the ocean. Reflective clothing or clothing with bright colors are discouraged as well. Sharks are naturally attracted to reflective objects because they replicate the shiny scales of fish.
  6. Stick to the bays – Sharks are more likely to be found in open water (areas further from shore) and “blue” water (area where you cannot see the bottom of the ocean). Swim and snorkel in geographically protected bays near shore to reduce your exposure to a variety of risks.
  7. Observe beach signage – Always take a look at posted signs at the entrance of the beach. Beach officials do an excellent job of updating signs to reflect current ocean conditions. After any shark sighting at any beach in Hawaii the sign featured below will be publicly posted for at least 24 hours.

Here’s a link to visual representations of each of the different beach safety signs you may come across in Hawaii.


How Long Do They Shut Down The Beach?

After anyone observes a shark in the ocean in Hawaii, officials shut down the beach for a period of 24 hours. If further sightings occur, the beach remains closed for consecutive 24 hour periods.

Surprisingly, the purpose of a beach closure is for both the safety of humans and for sharks. Sharks will depart for deeper water naturally, on their own. Shutting down the beach mitigates any confusion the shark may experience close to shore and precipitates its exit.


Why Might A Shark Come Closer To Shore?

Sharks tend to spend their time in “blue water” (where the bottom of the ocean isn’t visible) far from shore. Here are 2 circumstances experts commonly theorize a shark might come closer to shore :

  1. Pupping (mating)
  2. After a storm

It is thought that during mating a shark may sometimes move away from its open water habitat to a more secluded area closer to shore. The idea here is that the shark is avoiding predators and creating a safer environment for “pupping”.

It’s also theorized that sharks can be drawn to shore after a storm because river run-off and turbid water churned up from the bottom of the ocean may contain nutrients that are an easy source of food.  

Any time a shark is spotted at the beach, authorities will close the beach to recreational use for at least 24 hours.

Are There More Sharks In Maui?

Maui has experienced more recorded shark bites than the other Hawaiian islands.

In part, this is due to the fact that there are literally thousands of vacationers and locals recreating in the ocean in Maui each day. Millions of people visit Maui yearly.

Maui has more swimmable beaches than any other Hawaiian island. These numbers inflate the statistical representation of incidents between sharks and human beings.


Is Snorkeling Safe?

If you follow simple guidelines for ocean safety, snorkeling in Maui is incredibly safe. At The Snorkel Store we feel snorkeling is one of the most life affirming activities a person can experience.

Maui is unique in that it offers dozens of bays, coves and beaches where snorkelers can enjoy an underwater universe of green sea turtles, tropical fish and colorful reef.

It is essential to note that any time a person enters the ocean, anywhere in the world, there is a possibility of danger. While sharks should be included in your calculation of ocean safety, they are no where near the top of the list of potential risks.

Please follow the guidelines laid out in this article with respect to sharks specifically, then focus generally on water safety guidelines while recreating in the ocean in Maui. 

Here’s are links to excellent resources on ocean safety in Hawaii.

–>> How To Be Safe At The Beach

–>> How To Snorkel (With Downloadable Infographic)

–>> General Ocean Safety 101

–>> State Of Hawaii’s Statement On Shark Bites

Mahalo!

– The Snorkel Store Customer Care Team
Have a question? Give us a call during work hours, 8-5 Maui time: 808 669 1077

Kapalua Bay, Maui

@thesnorkelstore

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