Shark Attacks in Hawaiian Waters May Be on the Increase Because of Spear Fishermen

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Shark in Hawaiian waters

BY TERRY LILLEY – I have been diving weekly with the big sharks in Kauai for many years. I have some informative shark movies up on my web at

One fact. We have double to triple the amount of spear fishermen using spear guns in the water today in Hawaii then we did only five years ago. It is a fast growing sport. Just talk to any shop that sells spear guns.


Sharks are learning that people mean “free food”. Sharks are attracted to the sound of a spear gun going off. They respond to this from a great distance. Please see my video “Tunnels sharks” as I video this behavior.

I spear fish on a regular basis to catch my dinner and I support spearfishing. But more spear fishing will teach more sharks that people = food. They do not eat people, but like all animals they are attracted to an easy meal and people may get in the way of that meal.

If you are cooking hamburgers on the grass at the park ever day and this park allows dogs off leash, you will attract a few dogs. If you do this often the dogs will be there waiting for you and a free meal. Now mix some  kids into the picture with 20 hungry dogs looking for a free meal and someone is likely to get bit.

Sharks have been known and often will take a fish right off a spear gun! It has happened to me a number of times. More people spearfishing will mean more sharks looking towards people for a free meal.

Do some research and I think you will find out that the larger sharks will concentrate in areas that are most frequented by spear fishermen.

The other recent change is that the large (up to 12  foot) Galapagos sharks are now coming close to shore to feed. These sharks have no fear of people and they are extremely aggressive. Much more so than a tiger shark. Just watch my video of them.

These sharks usually stay out at sea but now are feeding close to shore. Maybe to hunt the monk seals that are coming down from the NW Hawaiian Islands. These sharks will show up within seconds after firing a spear gun. That is how I attracted them for the movie.

When I spear fish I rotate the locations I fish at, so the sharks are not attracted to any one spot. Constant spear fishing with spear guns in one area will bring in the big sharks. Spear fishing in areas where people surf and swim may not be a good idea, as It can cause more inter action between the big sharks and people.

I actually can go out spear fishing and demonstrate this shark behavior. Not sure anyone will want to go with me so that is why I bring my video camera! We also now have less fish for the sharks to feed on so they are more attracted to getting a free meal off the spear gun.

I am doing an underwater video right now on spear fishing in Hawaii and I will talk in great detail about each species of shark and how they relate to spear fishermen.

Terry Lilley is a Marine Biologist in Hanalei, Kauai. 





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