As a Scuba Diving Instructor and manager of Maui Dreams, I have the opportunity to learn about different aspects of marine life and I get to share that knowledge with the community. As August is Shark Conservation month, Rachel asked me to give a little presentation on sharks of Hawaii. This was great because it focused my attention on some of the most beautiful animals in the ocean. For those of you who could not attend my talk, I would like to share some of my findings.
I found some very useful information at the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) website. Hawaii has about 40 species of sharks. Only 10 of them are considered inshore, such as the White Tip Reef, Gray Reef, Scalloped Hammerhead, and the Tiger Shark. Most Hawaiian shark species are offshore sharks, such as the Great White, Silky, Cookiecutter, Oceanic White Tip, and Whale Shark. These species are rarely seen unless they are caught by deep sea fishers. I was privileged to see a Whale Shark inside the Molokini Crater several years ago! It was 10’ longer than the boat! Awesome!
According to Project Aware, the” International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a leading authority on the status of the world’s plant and animal species.” On the IUCN “Red List of Threatened Species” website I found that 24 Hawaiian species of sharks are considered either “Near Threatened” or “Vulnerable”. The Scalloped Hammerhead is listed as “Endangered”!
It is estimated that 200 million sharks are killed each year. Project Aware points to overfishing as the key factor in the diminishing shark population worldwide. Sharks are harvested for their fins, cartilage, skin, oil, teeth, and meat. In many fishing situations, they are considered as bycatch and discarded. Some of the reasons they are vulnerable; it can take many years for sharks to reach sexual maturity, they gestate for 1-2 years, have few offspring, and breed once every 2-3 years.
The DLNR website lists all shark bites in Hawaiian waters since the year 2000. There is an average of approximately 5 per year, even with all the millions of entries of people into the ocean here. There has been one fatality since 2000. Although a shark bite can do a great deal of damage to the human, the danger of sharks to humans overall has been wildly blown out of proportion.
Why should we protect sharks? Without sharks as an apex species; prey species will become unbalanced, diseased, sick, and injured animals will live longer. Seagrass beds will become over-grazed which results in depletion of fish nursery grounds. And, of course, they are beautiful, majestic animals that we are privileged to occasionally view while diving here in Hawaii.
What protections does Hawaii have for our shark population? It is against the law to bring shark fins to shore without landing the entire shark, which discourages the practice of cutting the fins off and discarding the rest of the animal. Hawaii also has several Marine Reserves such as Molokini and Ahihi-Kinau, and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument where sharks are safe from commercial fishing.
What are a few of the things you can do to help? For one thing, you can sign the Shark Petition, eat sustainable seafood, support Marine Protected Areas, talk to others about sharks, be environmentally aware, and take the AWARE Shark Conservation Specialty here at Maui Dreams which is for divers and nondivers alike!