Shark attacks are increasing in Hawaii, so much so that researchers put together a study to figure out why. The shark attacks have centered primarily around the Hawaiian island of Maui, and to a lesser degree around Oahu. Scientists say that for the last two decades, they’ve seen a profound increase in shark attacks on swimmers around these two Hawaiian islands.
The new study on the Hawaiian shark attack increase was commissioned by the Land and Natural Resources Department. The study on shark attacks was headed by Charles Meyer at HIMB, or the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
To conduct the shark attack study, several tiger sharks were tagged with tracking devices to help understand why shark attacks had increased so much around the Hawaiian islands. The tiger sharks were monitored not only in their activity around the islands, but also as they traveled through the open seas to determine why they were attracted primarily to Maui and Oahu to a greater extent than the other Hawaiian islands. After the study was concluded, it was determined that the ocean waters near Maui are filled with coral reefs that offer a wider variety of food sources for the sharks. Additionally, the warming of ocean temperatures — which scientists attribute to global warming — means that beach goers spend longer periods of time in the water, increasing their risk for a shark attack.
As a result of the study, scientists aren’t warning tourists and locals to stay out of Maui and Oahu’s beautiful beaches, but they do advise some common sense. Researchers say that swimmers should avoid murky water, as well as any dead animals that may already be in the ocean as they are both an attractant for sharks. While shark attacks do happen, scientists say that large sharks are a vital part of the ocean’s ecosystem, and if they were to vanish, they would allow a significant rise in the numbers of other, smaller predatory fish which would result in a major ecosystem imbalance.
So, what should you do if you’re attacked by a shark?
The best way to counter a shark attack is to not put yourself in a position to be attacked by a shark in the first place. In addition to the advice above — that is, to avoid murky water and any dead animals in the ocean — experts say to avoid areas where known sewage outlets expel waste into the water. These sewage drains are definite attractants to large predatory fish like sharks. Experts also say to avoid going into the ocean at dawn, dusk, and at night. There are several varieties of sharks that purposely move into shallower water during these times to hunt, and though lighting conditions may be low, sharks are keen enough to seek out prey in even the poorest visibility conditions.
Additionally, scientists say you should avoid wearing high-contrast colors in the water. That bright colored swimsuit that you though looked so great on the rack in the store might be just the thing to attract a shark. In particular, orange and yellow suits are thought to be especially attractive to sharks. Another thing you won’t want to wear in the ocean is jewelry. A metal necklace or bracelet that glitters in the water could be mistaken for fish scales by a shark and result in an attack.
Other tips to avoid a shark attack are to minimize splashing while in the water, swim in groups (as sharks most often attack individuals) and keep an eye on the wildlife around you; if other fish and turtles suddenly scatter it could be an indication that a shark is in the area.
If you are approached by a shark, experts state that you should stay as still as possible. Moving erratically, and/or splashing through the water, will only entice the shark even more. If you are actually attacked, however, experts say you need to be as aggressively defensive as possible, as “playing dead” will not work. If you have to, strike the shark’s eyes and gills as these are the animal’s weakest points. Additionally, some scientists believe that a sharp strike on the snout will also help disengage the animal or help diffuse a shark attack.
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