How To Avoid Shark Attacks in Hawaii (6 Effective Tips)

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Hawaii’s marine wildlife is a major attraction, but while enjoying sea turtles, monk seals, and triggerfish here, you’ll also need to know how to avoid shark attacks. Sharks such as the tiger, hammerhead, whitetip reef, and sandbar inhabit the foreshore in Hawaii, and while you’re in the water, you need to be respectful of them and their home. 

To avoid shark attacks in Hawaii, stay in groups, avoid swimming when it’s dark or cloudy, and don’t swim in stream and river mouths. Hawaiian sharks such as the tiger and hammerhead are more aggressive from October to December, so avoid swimming in the fall and winter.

So, let’s discuss how you can avoid shark attacks in Hawaii. I’ll tell you everything there is to know about shark attack prevention and safety measures, and I’ll also teach you what to do if you come face to face with a shark. 

1. Don’t Go Out on the Water Alone

When you’re out in the water, there’s safety in numbers. 

Sharks are far less likely to attack large groups of people. Groups of people look far more intimidating to sharks than individual people, so sticking together can ward off any predators. 

In addition, staying in a group will ensure that you can get help in the case of an injury, whether it’s shark-related or not. 

So, always grab a buddy when you want to take a dip in the ocean in Hawaii, and try not to go swimming in secluded coves. 

Instead, opt for some more popular beaches where you’ll find shark patrollers, safety guidelines, and plenty of people. If you want an idea of what to look for in a beach to avoid shark attacks, check out my other article on the Best Maui Beaches for Swimming

2. Only Go in the Ocean During the Daytime

Hawaiian sharks, primarily the tiger shark, feed at night. These sharks see best in low-light conditions, allowing them to hunt easily after the sun is down.

However, they move to deeper waters during the daytime, where few people swim or surf.

So, swimming, surfing, and fishing are activities that are best left for daylight hours. Try to go out on the water only on sunny days, and avoid entering the water between around 7:00 PM and 9:00 AM, when most sharks are out searching for food near the shore. 

If you want to see an example of tiger sharks feeding at night–and see how uninterested tiger sharks are in hunting humans–check out this video: 

Although that jaw power is awe-inspiring, tiger sharks and other Hawaiian sharks are not very interested in eating humans. They’d much rather eat the foods they are used to and attack species that they know how to hunt effectively. 

3. Avoid Swimming in Stream and River Mouths After Rain

After rains, sharks gather in estuaries, or stream and river mouths, where the rapids push large fish from freshwater into the ocean. 

Essentially, after the rains cause swells in this water, fish shoot out of river mouths by the hundreds. I can just imagine what this would be like for a shark. All they’d need to do is sit at the river mouth with their jaws open, and they’d get their fair share of “fast food.”

Because of the ease of feeding after rainstorms, sharks swim toward bad weather. You’ll find them hunting during hurricanes and tsunamis, taking advantage of the panicked schools of fish that dart away from intense currents and tides. 

So, to avoid becoming “fast food,” try not to swim near estuaries, especially when the currents are rapid following a rainstorm. In addition, avoid swimming during rainy and cloudy weather, as these times are ideal for sharks to hunt. 

4. Avoid Swimming in October, November, and December

41% of all shark attacks in Hawaii happen in October, November, and December. No one knows why sharks are more likely to attack during the winter months, but statistics have long supported an upwards trend in shark incidents as soon as it becomes October. 

However, the months with the fewest attacks since 1950 are February, May, July, and September. So, if you are genuinely worried about shark attacks, you might want to plan your visit to Hawaii for one of these months. 

5. Understand Why Sharks May Attack

Frankly, the likelihood that you will be attacked by a shark while swimming, surfing, or scuba diving in Hawaii is very slim. However, being prepared never hurts anyone. 

According to statistics from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, the tiger shark is the most common shark that attacks people. 

However, tiger sharks are generally docile and rarely attempt to attack humans unless provoked. 

So, that’s good news for you. The main thing you’ll need to do to prevent an attack is to ensure that you don’t provoke the shark. 

Sharks see several things as a provocation. Loud splashing, physical contact, and fishing accidents are the leading causes of shark attacks. 

Splashing and swimming erratically indicates to sharks that you are easy prey. In addition, sharks have incredible hearing, but their vision isn’t too great. Splashing will suggest that there’s injured or frightened prey in the water, but if you splash, sharks won’t even be able to see what they are biting if they attack you. 

Then, there are fishing accidents, which make up a large majority of fatal shark attacks in Hawaii. Spearfishers and large-scale fishers who attempt to take down a shark put themself at risk of an attack, so you should never attempt to harm a shark in Hawaii. 

In addition, accidentally–or purposefully–harming a shark will likely make the predator angry and give them a reason to believe that they have to defend themself. Accidentally kicking a shark, landing on one after flying off a surfboard, or intentionally punching the shark will likely incite an attack. 

6. Know How To Intimidate and Deter Sharks

However, even if you end up harming or coming too close to a shark, there are ways to get out of the situation without anyone getting hurt. 

If you do end up near a shark, stay calm. As I mentioned already, splashing will only encourage a shark to bite. Stay upright and make direct eye contact with the shark, never turning away from it. It will circle you, eventually getting closer. 

As the shark gets closer to you, it will try to tap you with its nose. If this happens to you, make some noise and reach your hands out to divert the shark, pushing it the same way you’d move a kayak or surfboard. 

The sound and your ability to move the shark effortlessly will intimidate it, making it see you as a more intelligent, stronger predator. 

Pushing away the shark will be easy, but please, don’t punch it. Harming it will only escalate the situation. Just give it a little push. 

If the shark swims away, you have successfully intimidated it. However, if it tries to circle you and approaches you again–which is rare–it may try to bite you. 

This biting behavior is a bit like a puppy’s. Sharks don’t have fingers to feel and investigate strange things, so they use their mouths. 

If the shark does attempt to bite you, try to push it away again, and make some noise by shouting or clapping. Do not splash. 

However, if it grabs hold of you, you may need to harm the shark to get it to let go. To do so, reach around the shark and grab it by the gills. Claw at the inside of the gills if you can or punch them. Their eyes are another sensitive spot. 

Targeting the gills or eyes should convince the shark that you are a threat, and they should get away to avoid incurring your wrath. 

If you want to learn more about how to confront sharks without being attacked, check out this video from 50 ft (15 meters) below, a diver who frequently seeks out opportunities to dive with sharks: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFZaROglgAE

Steve Rajeckas

Steve is an avid traveler who can't get enough of the wonder and curiosity that comes with visiting a new place. Some of his favorite destinations include Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne, and Maui.

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