Sharks Found Around the Hawaiian Islands and Why They Attack

The Hawaiian word for shark is Mano. There are about 40 species of sharks in the waters around the Hawaiian Islands of which eight of them are commonly seen near shore. The most frequently encountered Hawaiian reef sharks are the White Tipped Reef Shark, Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Tiger Shark, Galapagos Shark, Gray Reef Shark, and the Sandbar Shark. The Tiger Shark and the Galapagos Shark are the most aggressive of the Hawaiian reef sharks. The others are potentially dangerous but are known more to attack humans only when they are provoked. Sharks typically hunt for fish, turtles, dolphins and seals during the low light times of dusk and dawn. Sharks can detect the faint electrical fields given off by all living organisms. As they approach, receptors on the sharks’ snouts allow them to locate their prey without seeing it.


In the 188 years that shark attacks have been tracked in Hawaii , from 1828 to 2012, there have only been 152 unprovoked shark attacks in the waters around the Hawaiian Islands, of which 8 resulted in death. The last death from an unprovoked shark attack in Hawaii was in 2004 off the coast of Maui. According to the International Shark Attack File in 2012 there were 80 unprovoked shark attacks worldwide with 10 in Hawaii and 26 in Florida. Yearly Florida has the most recorded unprovoked shark attacks in the USA. When unprovoked shark attacks happen in Hawaii surfers and boogie boarders are those most commonly bitten due to cases of mistaken identity. From the sharks’ view near the ocean floor looking up towards the ocean surface a surfer laying on their surfboard with arms paddling looks like a seal swimming, and a boogie boarder lying on their board with their legs kicking and arms paddling looks like turtle. Commonly, once sharks bite into humans and find out it is not the turtle, seal, or fish they were expecting they let go and go away. To prevent their own injury sharks will also attack quickly and retreat until their prey is motionless. When frequent shark attacks occur in one specific area, it is typically due to a lack of natural food supply for the sharks caused either by over fishing or rapid changes in the marine environment. You have a better chance at winning the lottery than getting bitten by a shark, but no matter where in the world you are if a shark attacks your best defense is to punch the shark in its snout, gills, and eyes until it lets go. Once released from the shark apply pressure to the wounds as soon as possible to control the bleeding and have someone call 911 immediately to get medical assistance. For the most current shark attack reports in Hawaii visit


Did you know Hawaiians are related to sharks?

Ancient (and some modern) Hawaiians believed they had a spiritual connection to their environment. They believed that the spirits of their ancestors came back to protect them. ‘Aumakua (Pronounced: Ow muck-oo-ah) are part of ancient Hawaiian spirituality. The Ancient Hawaiians recognized several gods and deities. Their ‘aumakua was their families’ protector embodied supernaturally in living creatures, rocks or other idols serving like a guardian angel or spiritual guide. ‘Aumakua are passed along lines of Hawaiian family lineage through generations. Examples of ‘aumakua are usually animals, such as a shark (mano) or Hawaiian short-eared owl (pueo) and appear in order to help the family in time of need.


Exciting Shark Adventures in Hawaii

There are about 40 species of sharks found in the Hawaiian waters ranging from 8 inches to over 50 feet long. The most common sharks seen around Hawaii are Blacktip Sharks, Reef Blacktip Sharks, Reef Whitetip Sharks, Tiger Sharks, Sandbar Sharks, Galapagos Sharks, Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks, and Gray Reef Sharks. Coming face to face with a shark can not only be a thrilling experience but it can also be very safe.

On the island of Maui there is an adventure for certified divers that starts from the shore and goes out to where it is about 35 feet deep and where Blacktip Sharks frequent. Divers can swim with the sharks or just hang loose and observe them. The tour operator offers movie and photography services so you can capture memories of this unique and thrilling adventure.

On the island of Oahu there is an adventure on the North Shore that takes adventurers by boat out about four miles where sharks are frequently seen. White tip reef sharks are one of the most common sharks seen in this area and the sharks sighted range from five to fifteen feet in length. After putting on snorkel equipment adventurers enter a shark cage that is attached to the back of the boat and get a close but safe encounter with the most fearsome creatures of the ocean. Shark sightings can also be done from the boat but do not offer quite the same experience.

If you are looking for something a bit more tame on the island of Oahu there is an adventure at Sea Life Park where “seawalkers” explore a large aquarium tank filled with sharks, stingrays, sea stars, moray eels, sea turtles, sea urchins, and hundreds of tropical fish from the inside. No dive experience is necessary for this adventure; a bell helmet, wet suit, and underwater camera are provided.


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