Sharks of Hawaii
On our snorkeling tours, guests frequently ask, Are there sharks in these waters? and the answer is Yes.
Literally everywhere on Earth, there’s saltwater, there are sharks. No need to stress though! Sharks get a bad rap (looking at you Steven Spielberg) but honestly, shark bites are rare and deaths from shark bites are extremely rare. In Hawaii, about 3 or 4 shark bites occur a year, which is nothing when you consider how many people are in the water. These days, exponentially more people are injured or die taking selfies than from sharks!
There are some forty species of sharks that occur in Hawaiian waters and about eight of those are somewhat common in nearshore waters, including sandbar, hammerhead, whitetip reef, and tiger sharks.
The ones we most frequently encounter are the whitetip reef sharks, who we’ll sometimes see resting in caves in the reef. They rest in the day because they hunt—bony fishes, crustaceans, and octopus– at night. As the name implies, they’re easily identified by the white tips on the dorsal fin and top of the tail fin and although they can grow up to six feet long, they’re not to be feared. Sharks are very much attuned to their environment and know when people are in the water long before people are aware of them. They normally want nothing to do with us.
With fossil records dating back 400 million years, sharks have outlived the dinosaurs and many other forms of life on earth. As top predators, their existence is absolutely essential to the natural order of marine ecosystems and it’s disturbing how sharks have been demonized and how many of them are needlessly and carelessly slaughtered every year.
Sharks have always been highly revered in Hawaiian culture for their intelligence and sensitivity and there are many shark gods, including Kamohoali’i. The brother of Pele (the goddess of fire and volcanoes, and the creator of the islands), Kamohoali’I was highly respected and able to take on all human and fish forms. He was known for helping voyaging ships lost at sea find their way to land.
We hope that you’ll join us in being advocates for sharks and help dispel the inaccurate perception that they pose any meaningful threat to humans. Long live sharks!