Tiger shark behavior revealed
New research shows shallow waters around Maui County not only support a shark population there, but also attracts sharks from other islands. But is that the reason Maui waters have a greater history of shark attacks?
Maui waters "no ka oi". At least it seems tiger sharks think those waters are the best.
New research shows shallow waters around Maui County not only support a shark population there, but also attracts sharks from other islands.
"Tiger sharks in Hawaii are really focused on the insular shelf habitats. That is the area from the shoreline to a depth of about 600 ft. This is their natural habitat, which means the sharks are continually present around our coastlines," said Dr. Carl Meyer with the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
That is where their food is found, reef fish and crustaceans. Also where mating and birthing of pups takes place.
Each of the islands have some insular shelf, but there is much more of it around the islands of Maui County.
"Our tracking study showed that sharks from outside of Maui, visited Maui at certain times of the year. But the ones tagged on Maui tended to stay around the insular shelf habitat throughout the year. We also learned tiger sharks are routinely using the same areas that people use for swimming, snorkeling and surfing, but most of the time those sharks are not seen by people," added Meyer.
Hawaii researchers tagged nearly 100 tiger sharks and monitoring them over 6 years.
Tiger sharks are one of the species most commonly involved with attacks on people.
Over the past 20 years Maui has had twice as many shark bites as Oahu, even though there are fewer people there.
One of the greatest concentration of attacks has been off SW side of the Valley Isle.
Meyer found around 80% of the days, two reporting sites had at least one tagged tiger shark visit: Makena and Kalama.
Those are also popular swimming, and surfing sites. Both locations also had multiple tagged sharks on half of the days, but shark visits don't usually last long.
"The typical visit by tiger sharks to any beach are just a few minutes long, on average about 13 minutes. 95% of them are less than 30 minutes," stated Meyer.
The monitored predators are just a small percentage of the entire population. Numbers routinely fluctuate as tiger sharks swim down from the Northwest Hawaiian islands or other areas of the Pacific Ocean.
More research is planned to tag some of those sharks to see if they also visit Maui waters.
Some may now be hesitant to head into the ocean knowing their time in the water may be shared with tiger sharks, but Dr. Meyer offers up this fact as food for thought,
"When you see the thousands of people that use our ocean waters for recreation, and combine that with the fact tiger sharks are in the same area, you can see the risk of an interaction that results in a shark bite is actually incredibly rare. Things like ocean drownings are a much bigger hazard in our waters than shark bites."
While much has been learned about the top ocean predators, there are some things researchers still don't know, including: how often tiger sharks feed and how much they eat at one time.
Meyer hopes to answer that question by developing a device that will go into a shark's stomach to record all of that information. It would eventually be regurgitated by the shark and the data downloaded.
If you would like to learn more about the tagged sharks around Hawaii waters, or see where they are or have been, go to: