Shark attacks renew culling controversy in Hawaii

Shark attacks renew culling controversy in Hawaii
Published: Dec. 3, 2013 at 11:25 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 3, 2013 at 11:57 PM HST
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MAKENA, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - People are cautiously getting back in the water one day after a shark killed a kayak fisherman off Makena, Maui. The recent attacks are prompting calls for action, including a renewed debate about hunting the creatures. Some people want the state to kill tiger sharks. The strategy was tried decades ago.

"That's something that continues to be discussed. We have to weigh that with the reasonable likelihood of being able to catch the shark that is involved in this incident," said William Aila Jr. of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

"Even though those culling programs removed thousands of sharks overall and hundreds of tiger sharks, people were still bitten both during and immediately after the shark control programs," said researcher Carl Meyer of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

The killings raised cultural concerns for Native Hawaiians. Subsequent research also showed that tiger sharks often travel long distances, making the population difficult to control.

"At this point right now, we don't believe we have the scientific evidence that would allow us to have some measure of success in doing that," explained Aila.

After several fatal attacks in the early 1990's, Maui lawmaker Rep. Joe Souki introduced a bill to fund a state-sponsored hunt. He no longer favors the tactic. Instead, he believes that protecting Hawaii's green sea turtles may be causing more shark encounters.

"What we need to do is to lift the ban on turtles as a protected species, and maybe it could start with the Native Hawaiians as they do in Alaska where they allow the natives to go and hunt the whales during the whale season," said Souki.

"The timelines of the turtle recovery and this increase in incidents, those timelines don't match. The other thing is that turtles aren't the only thing that sharks eat," said researcher Kim Holland of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

Another theory is that Hawaii's shark fin ban has caused some changes, but local experts disagree.

"Shark bites have been occurring for a long time and during none of that period have sharks been targeted in Hawaii for fining or any other kind of commercial use," said Meyer.

University of Hawaii researchers conducting a two-year study for the state plan to return to Maui in January to tag more tiger sharks.

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