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August 2009    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 24, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Hawaii Protests Shark Tours But Study Says They Do No Harm

from the August, 2009 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Plans for a new “swim with the sharks” tour near Maunalua Bay were canceled in April after irate Oahu residents were up in arms. Iolani Lewis planned to run tours off the Snoopy V, chumming the ocean to attract sharks and put clients in cages to watch them eat, but locals said that was too close to waters where they swim, surf and canoe. After speaking to Lewis and the owner of the Snoopy V, state representative Gene Ward said they called it off. “With all this community pressure, they decided it was better not to go forward,” Ward told the Honolulu Advertiser. “[Constituents have] armed themselves with pitchforks and torches.” After 300 protested at a town hall meeting, the Hawai’i Kai Neighborhood Board approved a resolution calling for a statewide ban on shark-feeding tour operations. Now a council member in Maui, which has no shark tours, is proposing a ban against them ever getting started.

Hawaii has no jurisdiction over shark-feeding tours that operate out of private marinas and go three miles from shore into federal waters, where it’s not illegal to chum for or feed sharks. But Michael Tosatto of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Honolulu said his agency has launched a probe into Oahu’s two current shark tour operators, North Shore Shark Adventures and Hawaii Shark Encounters. “We are investigating these companies and how they operate, and hope to address the violations that they’re committing,” he told the Associated Press. North Shore Shark Adventures owner Joe Pavsek says he’s doing nothing illegal, that he takes people to waters where crab fishermen have unintentionally been attracting sharks for 40 years by tossing unused bait overboard, and that his tours don’t alter shark behavior.

New research backs him up on that. The Hawaii Institute of Biology issued results from its two-year study of Hawaii’s shark-cage dive tours, stating they’re of little risk to people near the shore. It’s mostly because they’re done miles offshore but also because they attract Galapagos and sandbar sharks, two species rarely involved in attacks on humans. While people have claimed the sharks follow the boats back to shore, the researchers, who used acoustic telemetry to track the movements of sharks tagged during the tours, found they stayed out at sea. Carl Meyer, one of the study’s researchers, told the Advertiser, “If these shark tours were a real problem, we would have seen it manifested by now in an increase in attacks.”

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