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Shark attacks may be rare, but they capture our imagination and strike fear whenever they occur. If you’re visiting Hawaii, you may be wondering just how common shark attacks really are in the island paradise known for its beaches.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: While shark attacks are very rare in Hawaii, averaging about 4 attacks per year, their rarity makes them no less shocking when they do happen.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore Hawaii’s history with shark attacks, look at attack statistics over the years, examine why attacks occur more frequently at certain locations, learn safety tips to prevent attacks, and more.

A Brief History of Shark Attacks in Hawaii

Early shark attack reports

The earliest known shark attacks in Hawaii date back to the 1800s, with reports of attacks on Hawaiian surfers and fishermen. However, details on these early attacks are scarce since record-keeping was limited at the time.

Changes after statehood

After Hawaii became a state in 1959, beach tourism began booming. With more people swimming and surfing, shark attacks likely increased as well. However, comprehensive statistics were still not kept until later years.

Recent attack trends

According to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, there have been 134 shark attacks in Hawaii since 2013, averaging around 20 attacks per year. The number of annual attacks has jumped in recent years – there were 16 attacks in 2021 and 19 attacks in 2022.

So while shark attacks have always posed a risk in Hawaii, their frequency seems to be rising. Authorities believe increased beach usage, tourism, and possibly climate change are contributing factors.

Hawaii Shark Attack Statistics and Hotspots

Number of attacks by island

According to statistics from the International Shark Attack File, the island of Oahu has seen the highest number of unprovoked shark attacks in Hawaii, with 142 attacks since 2013. Maui comes in second with 71 attacks, followed by Hawaii Island with 47 attacks.

The islands of Kauai, Molokai and Lanai have seen very few attacks, with only a handful reported in recent decades.

Attack locations by region

In Oahu, North Shore and West Shore beaches see the majority of shark attacks. Hotspots include Sunset Beach, Pipeline, and Makaha. In Maui, South Maui and West Maui lead in attack numbers, especially at Honolua Bay, Makena Beach, and Kaanapali.

On the Big Island, Kona Coast and Kohala have many incidents. Hapuna Beach and Kua Bay are high-risk areas.

Oahu Regions Maui Regions Hawaii Island Regions
North Shore South Maui Kona Coast
West Shore West Maui Kohala

Months and times with highest risk

The winter months of October through March see increased shark activity in Hawaii due to seasonal migrations and birthing periods. August through December are peak times for tiger shark attacks. Early morning and dusk hours also pose greater danger.

experts advise caution year-round, especially when waters are murky after big storms.According to Hawaii DLRN, being aware of surroundings and not swimming alone can help prevent attacks.

Understanding Why Shark Attacks Happen

Species involved

The main species involved in shark attacks in Hawaii are tiger sharks and bull sharks. These large, powerful predators are attracted nearshore to the same waters frequented by humans. Their biology and behavior make them more likely to be involved in incidents with people.

Triggering risky behavior

Certain conditions can trigger risky behavior in sharks, increasing the chances of an encounter with humans. These include:

  • Hunger or curiosity: Sharks investigating potential prey may accidentally bite humans.
  • Mating season: Aggression is higher as sharks compete for mates.
  • Protection of young: Female sharks guarding pups may perceive threats aggressively.

Other contributing conditions

Environmental factors like water temperature, tides, and turbidity also play a role. For example, tiger shark attacks peak in October when waters are warmest and prey is abundant nearshore. Bull sharks venture into shallow, murky river mouths, increasingoverlap with swimmers and surfers.

In the end, shark attacks are quite rare, even in Hawaii where tens of millions of people enjoy the ocean yearly. But understanding species behavior and conditions associated with risk can help ocean users stay safer.

Tips to Prevent Shark Attacks When Visiting Hawaii

Avoid swimming in murky water

Sharks tend to frequent turbid, sediment-rich waters where visibility is low. Research indicates that the majority of shark attacks occur in waters with visibility less than 3 feet. Limit swimming in harbors, river mouths, channels, or areas near stream runoff where clarity is reduced.

Do not swim alone

There is safety in numbers. Sharks are less likely to approach groups of swimmers. If planning to swim long distances from shore, consider having a partner accompany you. At minimum, ensure that a spotter remains on shore who can summon help if needed.

Stay clear when fish are present

The presence of schools of bait fish or sea turtles can signify feeding sharks in the vicinity. If noticeable fish activity is observed in swim zones, exit the water calmly and do not return for at least 20-30 minutes after the fish have dispersed.

Do not swim near fishermen trying to catch fish from shore or spearfishers in the water.

Follow warning signs at beaches

Lifeguards and beach safety officials closely monitor shorelines and nearshore waters for shark activity. When risks increase, warning signs may be posted advising visitors to stay out of the water. According to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, roughly 13 warning signs are issued annually due to dangerous shark sightings and encounters.

While shark attacks in Hawaii waters are rare, averaging about 4 bites per year, following these tips can further minimize risks. Most importantly, listen to lifeguard guidance, be aware of surroundings, and exit the water at the first sign of a dangerous marine animal.


While the odds of getting attacked by a shark in Hawaii are very low, shark attacks nevertheless grab headlines whenever they infrequently occur due to how shocking they are. By understanding why shark attacks happen, knowing which locations have higher risk, and following important safety precautions, you can enjoy Hawaii’s beautiful beaches while responsibly lowering your chances of encountering one of these powerful predators.

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