Statistics help explain theory on shark bite increases

Statistics help explain theory on shark bite increases
Published: Dec. 3, 2013 at 2:41 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 3, 2013 at 3:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Typically Hawaii will see four shark attacks a year, but this year there have been 13 in the state and eight of them around Maui. The most recent killed Patrick Briney, 57, as he was kayak fishing half mile off Makena Beach on Maui.

The question is why the spike in bites? Scientists and the state are still trying to figure that out but one big theory is statistics. More people in the water means more chances of a bite.

"We don't know what the reasons are for these spikes. We do know that it's not one shark. It's likely different conditions. The shark bite last week was a smaller shark on a woman who was snorkeling. We don't have an answer for everyone who is asking why," said William Aila, Department of Land & Natural Resources Chair.

Statistically speaking many recreational water activities have taken off in the past few years, including kayak fishing which is what the victim was doing when he was bit.

"There are definitely more people that are in the water. From a statistical standpoint the more people that are in the water the greater likelihood of an interaction. The greater likelihood of an interaction, the greater likelihood of a bite," said Aila.

"I thought that it was going to happen sooner or later," said Wayne Samiere, who is a marine biologist and former NOAA fish ecologist. He also started the Honolulu Fish Company.

Samiere says the kayak cost only a few hundred dollars versus tens of thousands of dollars for a boat. Yet people are much closer to the predators in a kayak.

"When you go beyond the surf then you are really going into the shark's territory," said Samiere. "The kayak is a safe and good recreational tool but you can't take nature for granted."

The state is doing a two year study of sharks, but so far the movements aren't too clear.

"Some of them go to Kona for awhile and come back. Some go to Kahoolawe and Lanai and come back. And some go around Maui and come back. So there is no clear pattern to the movement of large tiger sharks right now on Maui," said Aila.

"No we won't really know. The behaviors of these predators is not a simple thing," said Samiere.

As for scared tourists they may need a dose of statistical perspective.

"The most dangerous part of your trip is still getting into the car and driving to the beach, statistically," said Aila.

Australia has also had a similar spike in shark attacks including two fatalities in the last two weeks. The state says they can't explain the spike either.

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