Monday, May 25, 1998
Sharks at Hanauma Bay
deserve respect, not fear
NEARLY everywhere I go lately, someone is talking about
the shark of Hanauma Bay.
The shark in question is an inoffensive white-tip reef
shark that has been hanging out in a shallow area frequented by human
beings. Lots of human beings.
That's why park managers got worried. Because when a
shark, even a mind-its-own-business kind of shark like this one, meets the
human masses, there's potential for trouble.
This shark-in-the-bay stuff is not exactly news. The
white-tip reef shark in question is likely the shark, or one of its
offspring or relatives, that has lived in the bay for years.
In 1993, I wrote a guide to Hanauma Bay with underwater
photographer David Schrichte. David has spent years scuba diving in nearly
every nook and cranny of the bay, taking superb underwater pictures.
One of his finest photos is that of a white-tip reef
shark at rest under a ledge near the Toilet Bowl side of the bay. David
told me he often found the shark at that spot, or in the near vicinity,
during the day.
The shark can stay inactive like that because, unlike
most sharks, this species can pump water over its gills, allowing the fish
to breathe without swimming forward. Because of this characteristic,
divers usually see white-tip reef sharks resting under ledges and in caves
during the day.
At night, these sharks, which grow to about 6 feet
long, cruise the reef looking for octopuses, lobsters, crabs and fish.
"Are you going to put that shark picture in the
book?" our editor asked us during the making of the guide.
"Of course," David and I answered
simultaneously. To us, it was out of the question to omit this fish from a
Hanauma Bay guide. Sharks are, and always have been, a natural part of the
Because David only saw this fish while diving outside
the reef, we placed the picture in the scuba diving section of the book.
No one ever mentioned it.
But now that the shark, or one like it, has come into
the shallows, inside the reef, it's getting a lot of attention.
A few days ago, I had dinner with a friend from San
Francisco, here on a business trip. "I was told not to go snorkeling
at Hanauma Bay because of some shark sightings there," he told me as
we ate. "Is it true?"
I nearly spewed my drink all over the table. This guy
had been in Hawaii all of six hours.
After watching the shark for a while, the bay's
managers agree there's only one good answer to this shark sighting:
education. So, instead of closing the bay when this shark chooses to
snooze in the shallows, managers will post information signs for
Here are some important facts to know, and to pass to
others, concerning white-tip reef sharks:
White-tip reef sharks
are common throughout the Hawaiian Islands. These mild-mannered sharks are
a popular attraction at Molokini, another marine sanctuary, where divers
actively look for them.
This species of shark
is not aggressive toward people. However, neither are these fish tame.
Never, ever try to touch, feed or approach a white-tip or any other kind
A good guide on how to
behave around sharks is to give them the same respect you would a big
German Shepherd you don't know. The dog doesn't particularly want to hurt
you but is quite capable of doing so if frightened, teased or threatened.
So is the shark.
If you see a shark,
back up the way you came, then leave the area and consider it a good day.
Seeing a white-tip reef shark in the wild is a wonderful, memorable