Shark attacks rose to 13 in Hawaii in 2013, three times the 20-year average, the National Geographic reports. Not a single fatality had been reported since 2004, but 2013 had two.
If you’re still planning to travel to paradise this year, here is some helpful information to let you enjoy your days on the beach and in the water.
Why the rise in shark attacks?
The last time the Hawaiian Islands saw a spike in shark attacks was in 1990. Is this the new normal for Hawaii or just a random coincidence?
Shark attacks are so infrequent that researchers have not enough data to make a call. The National Geographic notes a couple of studies, unrelated to shark attacks, that contain what may be some hints about the cause.
A shark tagging and tracking study showed that in October, pregnant sharks migrated down the Hawaiian island chain to the main islands to give birth. The highest number of attacks also occurred in October.
Another set of data from the University of Florida collected since 1926 verifies that October through December usually have the most frequent attacks.
Locals speak up
A local spear fisherman interviewed by Hawaii Reporter says the cause for attacks is simple: sharks are following the fishermen to nab their fish. People think of sharks as predators, but they are also opportunists.
They won’t hesitate to grab a free lunch. Fishermen in the area have reported sharks taking fish off of spears and out of nets.
Older Hawaiians rotated where they fished so the sharks wouldn’t get used to where they could find free food. The fisherman suggested his colleagues had inadvertantly “trained” the shark population to follow them to the food.
A solution would be to move their fishing spots around to break the pattern.
Why people get bitten
Hawaiian fishermen swim around sharks frequently and aren’t bothered by them. Why do tourists get bitten? According to the LA Times, tourist season brings many people to the area who don’t understand shark behavior and stumble into situations that make them look like food to the sharks.
A kayaker who dangled a foot over the side was bitten. A woman lying on a paddle board with arms and legs in the water got bitten.
Both were also in water conditions favorable to feeding sharks. From below looking up, both people could be confused with sea turtles, one of the shark’s favorite meals.
How to avoid the shark problem
There are a few things you can do to have a shark-free vacation. It basically comes down to knnowing when and where to go into the water.
Don’t swim at dusk or dawn: That’s when sharks look for food.
Don’t swim in murky water: Sharks sneak up on prey in cloudy water.
Don’t swim alone: Stay with a group of people. Attacks happen to individuals separated from a group.
Don’t swim with shiny jewelry or brightly colored swim wear: These can attract a shark’s attention.
Don’t swim with cuts or open wounds: Sharks are attracted by the smell of blood.
Don’t splash on a surfboard or paddle board: Lying face down on a board while paddling looks too much like food to a shark.
Paradise still exists
Mix up your vacation time this year. A scenic bus tour down the East Coast or a weekend trip to Disney World are still great trips.
But a vacation in paradise is not out of the question. Keep yourself out of those situations where a shark may be confused and you’ll have a sunny, fun-filled trip to the Hawaiian Islands.