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DNA tech identifies shark that killed Maui surfer (and how big it was)

Published: Dec. 18, 2020 at 6:14 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - 10 days ago, surfer Robin Warren was bitten by a shark in Honolua Bay. The 56-year-old died of his injuries the next day.

“I feel like when you lose somebody like that, you generally want to know as much information about the situation as you can,” Derek Kraft, of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. “So, this at least lets us give them the fullest picture to our ability.”

Researchers with the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology were able to extract DNA from mucus that the shark left behind on Warren’s surfboard. They entered it into a database to pinpoint the species.

“It tells you the percentage match to the reference samples, and we got 100% match on several, several hits,” Kraft said. “So it’s a tiger shark. If it was another species, that’s what the database would have shown.”

“These are powerful tools and they can take a very, very small amount of DNA and them amplify that so that we can get a result,” added Dr. Carl Meyers, who works at the same facility.

A second test measured the size of the bite mark. From that, researchers determined the creature was a whopping 14.3 feet.

“One of the witnesses said that the tail was four feet long, and in my mind was like, ‘Wow, that’s a big tail,’” said Adam Wong, a DAR Education Specialist. “And I asked Carl if it’s possible for a 14-foot shark to have a four foot tail, you know?”

The team can confirm the exact species & size, but it would take a more complicated test called DNA fingerprinting to possibly find the exact shark involved in the attack.

“They have used this technology with bears actually, up in Alaska,” Kraft said. “When there’s bear attacks on people. So the technology exists. We just haven’t applied it to sharks yet.”

Science may be advancing, but researchers are also mindful that in this case, a life was tragically lost.

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