Is Hawaii Shark Infested?

A Hawaiian beach holiday on a white sandy beach with sparkling blue waters is on everyone’s bucket list. But not everyone is comfortable swimming in the ocean where sharks live. This article looks at shark species found around the Hawaii Islands and whether they threaten anyone.

Hawaii waters are home to around forty shark species. The Tiger shark, Hammerhead, Whale shark, Sandbar shark, Blacktip shark, Bignose shark, Gray Reef shark, Galapagos shark, Blacktip Reef shark, Scalloped Hammerhead shark, and Whitetip Reef shark are commonly found near the islands.

Many shark species live in the waters around Hawaii, but not all of them are dangerous. We look at shark species that are found in Hawaiian waters. How dangerous are they? And is it safe to swim in the ocean in Hawaii? Let’s find out!

Is Hawaii Waters Shark Infested?

It is estimated that around forty shark species live around the Hawaiian Islands, from the docile 60 feet Whale shark to the tiny 8-inch Pygmy shark and the aggressive Tiger Shark. Even though there are many sharks around the Hawaii Islands, chances are you won’t encounter any of them.

The eight most seen shark species around Hawaii is the Sandbar, Scalloped Hammerhead, Whitetip Reef, Bignose, Gray Reef, Blacktip Reef, Tiger, and Galapagos sharks.

Even though most sharks can be dangerous, mainly when provoked, only a few shark species have been responsible for injuring people around Hawaii.

In Hawaii, encounters between humans and sharks are infrequent. Most inshore shark species pose no threat. Serious shark bites are rare if you consider the high density of humans in the Hawaii waters yearly.

There has never been a reported case of a Great White shark attack on humans around the Hawaiian Islands. Great White sharks are dangerous but are hardly ever documented around Hawaii.

Dangerous Sharks in Hawaii Waters

In planet Earth’s oceans, 470 species of sharks have been living and surviving for over 420 million years. Sharks can be found in all oceans as deep as 2,000 meters. Sharks, in general, don’t live in freshwater bodies except for the River and Bull sharks.

Most sharks, except the Whale shark, have sharp teeth and can bite, but only the Tiger, Great White, Bull, and Whitetip sharks are responsible for most fatal human injuries.

Sharks are exceptionally well-developed sensory capabilities and are highly adapted to their environment. They can detect smells, sounds, and vibrations at great distances, even miles away. Sharks have excellent eyesight depending on the water clarity.

When visibility is low, sharks can locate prey from the faint electric fields given off by all living organisms. They have receptors on their snouts, known as ampullae of Lorenzini, that give them the advantage to pinpoint prey in low visibility.

Because Tiger sharks are on top of the list as the most aggressive and common culprit of human bites around Hawaii, we investigate them.

Tiger Shark – Galeocerdo Cuvier – “Niuhi” in Hawaiian

  • Tiger sharks can grow to 16 feet but are typically under 14 feet and weigh 1400 pounds.
  • They have broadly rounded snouts and curved, serrated teeth, and young Tiger sharks have a visible spotting pattern that turns to stripes with age. Thus, the name Tiger shark.
  • Tiger sharks feed on a variety of marine animals, carrion, and are often called the garbage bin of the ocean because of their ability to feed on everything possible.
  • Tiger sharks are often seen around coastal and open sea areas from the shallow water to around 2500 feet deep.

When correctly identified, Tiger sharks are documented as the most dangerous and common aggressors around Hawaiin islands.

Because of their feeding habits and size, Tiger sharks are apex predators and vital to maintaining the health of reef ecosystems by controlling marine mammal and fish populations. 

Tiger sharks are frequently seen in shallow waters, explaining why encounters with humans are commonly documented. The University of Hawaii Shark Lab states that most Tiger shark incidents happen from October to December each year.

Adult female Tiger sharks tracked in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands have been seen migrating south to the warm waters around the main Hawaiian Islands during this time.

Tiger sharks like to hunt around river mouths after rainstorms when freshwater fish and other prey are flushed out to sea.

Tiger sharks are highly adapted and can quickly locate prey, even in low visibility. They are also attracted to fishing boats and are seen to trail the vessels feeding on discarded fish entrails.

Tiger sharks are not fussy when it comes to food. They will feed on birds, fish, lobsters, turtles, any dead animal, and sometimes even garbage, whatever is present at the time.

Tiger sharks are curious and will investigate, bite and consume inanimate objects. They even feed on terrestrial animals like bats, dogs, and rats, and even boots, license plates, cans, barbie dolls, and cameras were found in their stomachs on occasion. 

Many factors need to be considered when investigating a shark bite incident. Tiger sharks, being so inquisitive, could be investigating if a human is a potential prey by test biting, causing injury, but generally, the injury is not fatal.

Shark Incidents – Recorded Annually by The Department of Land and National Resources Aquatic Resources – Hawaii

The Department of Land and National Resources Aquatic Resources in Hawaii keeps records of incidents in Hawaii. Their records show that around 2 to 3 shark incidents are annually, almost all non-fatal.

Since DLNR started documenting shark incidents, there have only been a few fatalities in Hawaii. Most of the shark bite incidents took place in Maui, the second-largest Hawaiian island.

Maui is the most documented place for shark bites, followed by Oahu. As over 8 million people visit Hawaii yearly, encountering a shark in Hawaii waters is slim.

In Hawaii, around 60 people drown, according to the State of Hawaii Department of Health Injury Prevention and Control Program, more than shark bite victims annually.

The US state with the most shark incidents is Florida, followed by Hawaii and California third.

How Frequent are Shark Bite Incidents in Hawaii?

Sharks are typically presented as dangerous human-killing machines. We have all seen that shark movie from the 80s. But the statistic shows something completely different.

The statistics show that shark bites aren’t as common or fatal as reported in the news. Most attacks happen when sharks mistake a human for one of their prey species.

It is not entirely clear why sharks occasionally bite humans around Hawaii, but it could simply be inquisitiveness or a case of mistaken identity. Most shark incidents recorded state the person was let go as soon as the shark bit the person.  

In some cases, shark bites are provoked, like when a spearfisherman may arouse an aggressive biting response with chum or a struggling fish.

Unprovoked bites are classed as shark bite incidents when a shark initiates a bite on a human in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation.

Provoked bites happen when a human initiates interaction with a shark causing a bite, like when divers harass by grabbing a shark or trying to touch a shark, or someone attempting to feed a shark. It is also considered a provoked incident when someone tries to unhook or free a shark from a fishing net.

Startling activity next to a shark can also result in a bite incident that is considered provoked. 

Hawaiian County – Unprovoked Shark Attacks – 1995- 2020

  • Hawaii – 22
  • Maui – 69
  • Molokai – 2 
  • Oahu – 42
  • Lanai – 1
  • Kauai – 30 
  • Other – 3
  • According to the Hawaii Department of Natural Resources.
Is Hawaii Shark Infested 02

Six Latest Shark Incidents in Hawaii for 2022 / 2021

Hawaiian Proverb – “Pua ka wiliwili, nan ahu ka manō, when the wili wili blooms, the shark’s bite.”  

  • 21 March 2022
  • Time – 2:00 pm.
  • At – Kailua-Kona, Keahole Point, approximately 1 mile from shore.
  • Water condition – Clear.
  • Activity – SCUBA diving. 
  • Water depth – 200 feet.
  • Victim – Confidential.
  • Injury – Puncture wound on the right foot.
  • Considered a provoked incident.
  • Identified Shark – Galapagos shark, length 6 feet.
  • 9 February 2022
  • Time – 3:30 am.
  • At – Kailua-Kona, Kahalu’u Beach Park, approximately 1.5 miles from shore.
  • Water condition – Clear.
  • Activity – Floating. 
  • Water depth – around 1200 feet.
  • Victim – Confidential.
  • Injury – Bitten on right calf and foot.
  • Identified Shark – Cookiecutter shark, length unknown.
  • 4 December 2021
  • Time 6:00 pm.
  • At – Kailua-Kona, Banyans, approximately 130 yards from shore.
  • Water condition – Turbid.
  • Activity – Surfing.
  • Water depth – around 6 feet.
  • Victim – J. Willeford.
  • Injury – Lacerations to the left forearm.
  • Identified Shark – White shark, length estimated at 15 feet.
  • 7 November 2021
  • Time – 10:30 am.
  • At – Maui, Lahaina, Mala Wharf, approximately 200 yards from shore.
  • Water condition – Turbid.
  • Activity – Spearfishing. 
  • Water depth – around 60 feet.
  • Victim – Confidential.
  •  Injury – Cuts to the upper right thigh.
  • Considered a provoked incident.
  • Identified Shark – Requiem shark, length 4-6 feet.
  • 15 May 2021
  • Time – 4:40 pm.
  • At – Maui, Kanaha, 400-500 yards from shore.
  • Water condition – Turbid.
  • Activity – Kite Surfing.
  • Water depth – 10-15 feet.
  • Victim – Confidential
  • Injury – Minor cuts and puncture wounds to the lower back.
  • Considered a provoked incident.
  • Identified Shark -Tiger shark, length 5-8 feet.
  • 20 April 2021
  • Time – 8:50 am.
  • At – Hawaii, Kūkiʻo Bay, approximately 500 yards from shore.
  • Water condition – Clear.
  • Activity – Swimming.
  • Water depth – around 60 feet.
  • Victim – T. Abrams.
  • Injury – cut to the right leg below the knee.
  • Identified Shark – Tiger shark, length 8-10 feet.

Shark Safety Tips for Hawaii Waters

Here are some shark safety tips to consider when swimming in Hawaii waters.

  • Stay in a group, swim, or surf with other people that can help. Don’t swim too far away on your own.
  • Don’t swim in the ocean at night, dusk, or dawn. Those times are typical hunting and feeding time for sharks.
  • Don’t go into the water if you have any wounds or are bleeding in any way; blood attracts sharks and can detect even a drop of blood exceptionally far away
  • Don’t swim in murky waters, channels, deep drop-offs, harbor entrances, and areas near river mouths flowing into the ocean, particularly after heavy rain. These kinds of sites are known to be favorites of sharks to hunt.
  • Don’t wear high-contrast swimwear or reflecting jewelry. Sharks have good eyesight and can see contrast well.
  • Don’t be splashing around excessively; it might arouse interest as a shark might interpret the “struggling fish” as prey. Sharks are attracted to activity in the water.
  • Don’t swim when a shark has been seen in the waters.
  • Do leave the water quickly and calmly if a shark is seen.
  • Don’t try to touch, grab, feed or provoke a shark, even if it is a small shark.
  • Do leave the water when you notice turtles or fish behaving strange,
  • Take note of big fish or dolphins swimming nearby because those are often prey for larger sharks.
  • When spearfishing, you should quickly remove the fish from the water or tow the fish at a safe distance.
  • Don’t swim near people spearfishing or fishing.
  • Don’t go near any dead fish or animals in the water.
  • Only surf or swim at beaches patrolled by lifeguards and always pay attention to warnings.


More than forty shark species live in the Hawaiian waters. Even though that sounds like the Hawaiian waters are shark-infested, the likelihood of encountering a shark or getting bitten by one is unlikely. Research has shown shark attacks are one of the most common human phobias.

The odds of getting bitten by a shark are 1 to 3,748,067, and dying from fireworks is higher at 1 to 340,733. A person is 47 times more likely to be hit by lightning than attacked by a shark; to show perspective,

More than half of the US recorded shark incidents happen in Florida waters. When the few shark incident cases are reported in the news, it is unfortunate to note that over 100 million sharks die worldwide each year.

So, enjoy your well-deserved Hawaiian holiday in the sun, and don’t worry about sharks. They deserve their rightful place in nature and are vital to the ecosystem.