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History of Maui Shark Attacks & Encounters: All The Important Stats

Updated: Feb 18

For Maui tourists and locals looking for detailed information on Maui shark attacks, we have assembled this visual snapshot of all the reported “shark encounters” in Maui waters since 1995. All information presented on this page is pulled directly from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) official State of Hawaii Shark Incident List. Maui Walking Tours worked with a professional data analyst (thank you Christina!) to slice and dice the data into the below fields so we can easily answer our top questions regarding Maui shark attacks.


First off, it is important to note that Hawaii DLNR defines a “shark encounter” or “shark incident” as any event where a shark bites an individual or board.  If a shark is spotted on a beach but does not come into direct contact with a human, that event is not included in the below statistics.  Let’s dive into the numbers and hopefully answer some important questions about Shark attacks on Maui.


HOW MANY SHARK ATTACKS ON MAUI HAVE THERE BEEN?


Since Hawaii DLNR started recording incidents in 1995 there have been 65 shark encounters. That comes out to an average of 2.32 attacks per year in Maui waters. And even though Maui isn’t the biggest Hawaiian Island (Big Island) or the most populated (Oahu), it still has almost double the amount of shark attacks than any of the other islands in the state. 


WHAT AREAS/REGIONS OF MAUI HAVE THE MOST ATTACKS?


Looking at the location tag for each of the 65 recorded Maui encounters, we have classified the incidents into six regions on Maui.



West Side (Olowalu, Lahaina, Ka'anapali): 9 attacks

Upper West Side (Honokawai, Napili, Kahana, Kapalua): 13 attacks

South Central (Lahaina Pali, Ma’alaea): 2 attacks

South Side: (Kihei, Wailea, Makena): 26 attacks

North Shore (Paia, Spreckelsville, Ku'au): 9 attacks

Central (Kahului, Waiehu, Paukakalo): 6 attacks


For those curious about more up-to-date shark news in Hawaii, head on over to Pacific Islands Ocean Observing Systems website, run by the University of Hawaii where you can follow movements of tagged tiger sharks over the last 48 hours. We remember tracking a few of the sharks on this site back in 2013 and 2014 that seemed to love patrolling the south Maui coastline.  Below are a few screenshots of their tracking pings.




After analyzing the 41 tagged sharks, the UH Oceanographers found that Maui tiger sharks did seem to frequent coastal areas that possessed an ideal insular shelf habitat prime for hunting all sorts of prey. These ideal habitats are found in coastal areas where depths don’t drop below 600ft.  Think of the shallow end of the kiddie pool.



The ocean area that extends out from the southern coastline of Maui and fans out to the neighboring islands of Lanai and Kaho’olawe is often described as a shallow bathtub by marine biologists and whale naturalists. Many argue the best humpback whale watching in the state is found in this region as well because the mother whales want their calves to learn to swim in these gentle, protected, and shallow waters. It appears the sharks have discovered the appeal as well.


WHAT MAUI BEACHES HAVE THE MOST SHARK ATTACKS?


Are there certain beaches to avoid on Maui is you suffer from galeophobia (the fear of sharks)? We have found some definite hot spots when it comes to specific Maui beaches.


  • Kalama Beach Park (Kihei) - 5 encounters

  • Keawakapu Beach (Kihei/Wailea) - 5 encounters

  • Kamaole I (Kihei) - 4 encounters

  • Paia Bay (Paia) - 4 encounters

  • Kanaha Beach Area (Kahului) - 4 encounters

  • Wailea Beach Area (Wailea) - 3 encounters

  • Olowalu (Olowalu) - 3 encounters

  • Honokawai (Honokawai) - 3 encounters


The founder and lead tour guide for Maui Walking Tours has personally had numerous encounters with sharks at Keawakapu Beach, so it is no surprise seeing this strip of south Maui coastline making the list. First hand stories include coming across a dead shark washed up on the beach and being at the beach twice when it was evacuated due to a shark sighting.


WHAT WERE THE VICTIMS DOING IN THE WATER WHEN ATTACKED?


Curious what water activity the victim was participating in when the shark encounter occurred?  You may be surprised to find that surfing isn’t the top activity. Snorkeling takes the top spot followed closely behind by snorkeling and surfing.  



We were also shocked to see the number of encounters with Stand Up Paddle (SUP) boarders.  The sport has only really been a popular ocean activity in Hawaii since 2010 at the earliest.


WHAT TIME OF DAY IS SAFEST/MOST DANGEROUS TO BE IN THE WATER?


Locals have always been told dawn and dusk are the riskiest times to be in the water, as sharks are said to be hunting during these periods. Unfortunately dawn is when surfers and spearfisherman like to get in the water as the wind is usually dead in the morning and water conditions are at their prime. Not to mention, if you hit the ocean early (“dawn patrol”) you can oftentimes have the waves or spearfishing all to yourself.


Analyzing the data on Maui shark attacks, it appears that dawn and dusk are a relative risk compared to the hours between 8am and noon. Interpret the data as you wish, but it sort of makes sense, knowing that the most amount of people are probably in the water during these hours.




WHAT MONTH IS THE MOST DANGEROUS TO BE IN THE WATER ?


Anyone who has lived on Maui for a year or two has heard the phrase “Sharktober”. In 2016 the administrator of Hawaii’s DLNR's Division of Aquatic Resources publicly warned "October is the month with the greatest number of shark bites.” 


Hawaiian oral traditions and chants even call out late summer and fall, “when the wiliwili tree blooms”, as the time period for an increased encounter with a shark. Analyzing the Maui numbers, we see that "Sharktober" really is true, followed by "Sharkvember".




One possible explanation for the October and November increase that has been posed centers around tiger shark migration patterns in the Hawaiian Islands.  It has been documented that pregnant female tiger sharks tend to make their way closer to the main Hawaiian Islands during these months to birth.



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Very interesting shark information!

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