HONOLULU — It’s never good news when sharks attack. It’s even worse when someone dies from a shark bite.
But when eight shark attacks are reported in a single year, it could be devastating to Hawaii’s tourist-rich economy.
Jana Lutteropp, a 20-year-old German tourist on vacation in popular resort area in Maui, died Aug. 21 after a shark bit off her arm a week earlier. So far this year, there have been eight reports of shark attacks in Hawaii. In 2012, there were 10, the highest number on record.
Now the state Department of Land and Natural Resources wants to figure out what’s happening in the Pacific waters surrounding the island state. It’s allocated $186,000 for a two-year study to examine shark moves around the islands.
Even though DLNR chairman William Aila said the attacks “appear to be random events involving sharks of different species and different sizes,” the study will focus on one of the most aggressive sharks in Hawaiian waters — the tiger shark.
“There’s nothing we can yet discern that connects the incidents or provides any sort of explanation,” Aila said, adding that Carl Meyer, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii will lead the effort.
“Every few years there’s a little spike, and we’ve now seen an unprecedented spike,” Aila said. “We are committed to furthering research efforts that will help guide effective management actions in the interest of safety.”
Sharks were hunted for their fins until June 2011 when the practice was banned by the Hawaii State Legislature, in part because of protests from native Hawaiians who consider sharks sacred and an important part of their culture and religion. There are 11 shark-gods in the Hawaiian mythology. In addition, some native Hawaiians believe sharks are their guardians or ancestors.
Environmentalists also emphasized the importance of sharks to the marine ecosystems.
Mike McCartney, head of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said he is not sure anything can be done to prevent the “rare” attacks, including the one that took the life of Lutteropp. But, he said, vigilance and common sense are the best safeguards.
“We want people to experience our people, place and culture and be safe. Our lifeguards are the best in world and well-trained,” McCartney said. “We hope people will listen to them.”
The DLNR also issued guidelines that if followed may prevent future shark attacks on people.