The Hawaiian islands have long had a unique and special relationship with sharks. One of the main deities in Hawaiian mythology is mano, and takes the form of a shark. Many Hawaiian families have their personal aumakua, which means guardian spirit. There are around forty species of sharks around the islands, however the majority are not spotted very often. The most commonly spotted sharks are Blacktip Reef sharks, Whitetip Reef sharks, Tiger sharks, Sandbar sharks, Galapagos sharks, Grey Reef sharks, and Scalloped Hammerhead sharks. The most aggressive of these examples are the Galapagos shark and the Tiger shark and even these do not attack humans unprovoked. I will attempt to describe and share information on some of these varieties that you may see around the islands.
The Tiger shark is known to live in tropical and temperate waters. Its name is derived from the markings that they have that resemble a tigers pattern and fades as the shark matures. The tiger shark has a wide array of things that they choose to eat and have also gained a reputation as a garbage eater. It usually is found in waters that are usually deep and just off reefs that have a steep drop off to deeper waters, however in Hawaii tiger sharks have regularly been observed in coastal waters that range from 20 to 40 feet. There are about 3-4 reported shark attacks in Hawaii each year and are not usually fatal, which is a relatively low number given the number of people who swim, surf, and dive in the Hawaiian waters every day. It is also illegal to feed sharks in Hawaii.
The Galapagos shark is found worldwide and is known to favor clear reef environments around oceanic islands and is usually the most abundant shark species there. This particular species often grows to just under 10 feet, and are considered an active predator that is often encountered in large groups. A distinguishing characteristic is the large dorsal fin that starts just at the back of the pectoral fins and has a slightly rounded tip. The primary diet of the Galapagos shark is bony fishes, and as they mature and grow larger they are known to eat larger prey as well as inedible items such as coral rocks, leaves and even garbage. They are inquisitive and persistent and have been known to approach close to swimmers. While attacks are very rare these two varieties are considered the most aggressive sharks that are local to the Hawaiian islands they are generally not dangerous and exhibit a more curious and inquisitive nature than an aggressive one.
Written by James Bredeson