October 10, 2016 - 4:53 AM
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - State officials are urging beachgoers to use extra caution this month when entering the water, as shark encounters tend to peak in Hawaii during the fall season.
Research conducted at the University of Hawaii shows shark attacks are more likely to occur during fall months, particularly October. About 20 per cent of Hawaii's shark attacks over the last 35 years have happened during October, West Hawaii Today reported (http://bit.ly/2e2PZPf).
There were three attacks that occurred during the month last year and four attacks in October 2014.
"October is the month with the greatest number of shark bites," said Bruce Anderson, an administrator with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Aquatic Resources "We recommend ocean users exercise a little more caution this month especially, and also through the end of the year."
Researchers have attributed the seasonal spike to migrating tiger sharks that travel from the Northwestern Hawaiian islands to the main islands during the fall to give birth.
McKenzie Clark and Brian Wargo were the victims of one of the attacks in October 2014.
They had been surfing in the Big Island's Keawaeli Bay when a tiger shark bit Clark's hand and surfboard. She was eventually able to free her hand, and Wargo pulled the animal off the board and started punching it until the shark relented and swam off.
"The statistics say it's pretty rare it's going to happen," Wargo said. "If something ever did happen, you have to keep the state of mind to fight. Most people that have fought them have reduced the (damage). And they do go away if you fight them."
Both Wargo and Clark have continued to surf following the incident, and Wargo said he wouldn't advise people to avoid the water. He would rather warn beachgoers to be more aware, because when sharks are hungry "it's hard to say what triggers them."
While Anderson said the chance of being bitten by a shark is "extremely small," he encouraged people to take extra steps to avoid the animals during the fall.
"The best thing ocean users can do to minimize their risk of shark bites is to utilize beaches with lifeguards, stay near other people, and don't go too far from shore," Anderson said. "Also, avoid murky water and areas near stream mouths."
Information from: West Hawaii Today, http://www.westhawaiitoday.com
News from © The Associated Press, 2016