Does Honolulu Have Sharks?

Does Honolulu have sharks? Honolulu is ideally situated to cater to all the water activities tourists demand when visiting Hawaii. The list is endless, from scuba diving to boat rides, surfing, and other activities. Shark attacks are often highly publicized, and it is customary to wonder if sharks are present in the water surrounding Honolulu.

Honolulu does have sharks. Eight species of sharks frequent the waters surrounding the island of Oahu. The Hawaii island group recorded as many as forty shark species. Common species near Honolulu include various reef sharks, tiger sharks, scalloped hammerheads, bignose, and sandbar sharks.

The presence of sharks in the water surrounding Honolulu should not come as a surprise. Hawaii, with its volcanic origin, has a varied and vibrant underwater world. Let’s look at the sharks that are the most likely to inhabit the coast of Honolulu.

Are There Sharks In Honolulu?

Research has shown that there are as many as forty species of shark in the Hawaii island chain. Only about eight species occur in the shallower coastal water of Honolulu. The varied underwater topography of the water surrounding Oahu makes it an ideal hunting and breeding area for sharks.

Inshore Shark Species Found Around Honolulu

The most common inshore species found around Honolulu are the tiger shark, the Galapagos shark, the bignose shark, the sandbar shark, the white tip reef shark, the gray reef shark, the scalloped hammerhead, and the black tip reef shark.

The tiger shark, known for its attacks on people, was identified in the warm waters surrounding Honolulu. The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology research on these sharks has shown that tiger sharks have an unpredictable and irregular feeding pattern as they patrol between the islands.

In Hawaii, the Galapagos shark primarily inhabits the northwest island group, which includes Honolulu. It is mainly a bottom feeder, focusing on octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish.

The bignose shark, named after its distinguishing nasal appendages, is found in deep water off the islands during the day. At night, the shark moves to shallow coastal water surrounding Honolulu. Bignose sharks feed mainly on deep-water fish, rays, and cephalopods.

Sandbar sharks frequent the shallow sandy water, characteristic of the many sandbanks, estuaries, and inlets around Honolulu. These sharks are the least likely species to attack a person, although sandbar sharks themselves are readily preyed upon by tiger sharks. Sandbar sharks are, unfortunately, on the list of endangered shark species due to the worldwide shark fin trade.

Another type of shark, the white tip reef shark, can be found lurking in caves and narrow cracks in the reef banks along the coastline of Honolulu. They are active at night but spend the daytime resting on the seabed. The white tip reef shark is the slowest shark of all the shark species.

Thegray reef shark is an agile, fast-moving predator that feeds on boney fish and crabs. It has an aggressive nature which causes it to dominate all other reef sharks. Gray reef sharks prefer rugged reefs with powerful currents, as often encountered in the waters of Honolulu.

The scalloped hammerhead shark has a flattened head in the shape of a hammer. The uniquely shaped head of the shark allows it to make sudden, sharp turns while hunting. The hammer shape of the head, with its numerous electroreceptors, gives this shark an advantage in detecting prey hiding under the sand. They enter the shallow water around Honolulu to give birth to their young.

In the shallow water surrounding Honolulu, the black tip reef shark feeds on reef-dwelling fish and creatures with no backbone or skeleton (for example, octopus). Although not seen as a commercially important shark species, overfishing has rapidly declined their numbers.

The Endangered Sharks Of Honolulu

Because of the fear of sharks (galeophobia), uneducated people unnecessarily kill many sharks. The uncontrolled exploitation of the shark fin trade by foreign nations is the biggest reason for the diminishing shark numbers worldwide. Many species have become endangered or have come close to total extinction.

In Honolulu, there are two species of shark that are currently vulnerable. The oceanic white-tip shark is listed as threatened. The Endangered Species Act of Honolulu will soon list the shortfin mako shark as either endangered or threatened. This species is currently under status review.

Incidents Of Shark Attacks Around Honolulu

There is a realistic chance of encountering a shark in Honolulu waters. The number of recorded shark attacks around Honolulu is low. Caution is still needed, as documented facts state that three to four people are bitten yearly on average in the waters of Hawaii.

There have been a record six shark incidents in 2022. The reason for the increase in shark encounters is unclear. None of these attacks were fatal, only causing minor injuries. Only one attack occurred on the island of Oahu. The incident involved a surfer attacked seven hundred yards offshore, causing only minor cuts to his big toe.

Shark bite fatalities are rare, with the last recorded fatal attack occurring in December 2020. In this incident, a surfer swimming close inshore was attacked by a tiger shark, causing severe injuries to his left leg.

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Why Do Sharks Attacks People?

Sharks will attack when it feels threatened. One theory as to why sharks attack surfers is that they react to vibrations in the water that make them believe it is a prey item that they need to pursue and investigate. Seen from underneath, a surfer resembles a seal or turtle, the favorite prey item of sharks.

The Spiritual Significance Of Sharks To The Honolulu People

The sharks are highly revered and integral to the Honolulu people’s lives, in the past and present. The people of Hawaii have for centuries used the shark as a source of food and materials used in their everyday lives. Sharkskin was part of the construction of the drums used in traditional music and ritual ceremonies.

Another use of the shark was applying the teeth to make spears, knives, and other tools essential for their daily existence. The dried skin was used as sandpaper to smooth over the wood used in making ceremonial drums.

The Hawaiian people have been tattooing shark teeth on themselves for centuries. According to a legend, an old lady freed herself after being caught by a shark by telling the shark that it was her family protector. The shark then said he would, in the future, recognize her by the bite marks on her ankle. Today it is customary for Hawaiians to tattoo shark teeth on their ankles.

For many generations, the people of Hawaii have attached great significance to the shark as family protectors or deities (aumakua), believing them to be their forefathers brought back as sharks to protect family members.

Many Hawaiians see the tiger shark as their family protector. Some of the other shark species also have spiritually significant, not just the tiger shark. This culture is still widely practiced today, upholding the old ways and passing on the practices to the new generation.


Sharks are indeed present in the water surrounding Honolulu. Most attacks on record involved the tiger shark, but fortunately, the number of recorded attacks is low. The people of Honolulu share a long cultural and spiritual history with the sharks of Hawaii.