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Shark attacks in Hawaii, while rare, can be dangerous and even deadly if you don’t take the right precautions. If you’re headed to the Hawaiian islands and want to make sure your beach days and ocean activities stay safe, follow these tips on understanding sharks and avoiding interactions.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Avoid swimming at dawn, dusk or night when sharks are most active. Don’t enter the water if you have open wounds or are bleeding. Avoid murky water with low visibility and steep drop offs where sharks may congregate.

Don’t wear high-contrast clothing or shiny jewelry that could mimic the appearance of prey.

Understand Shark Behavior and Habits

Shark Activity Peaks at Dawn, Dusk and Night

Sharks tend to be more active at twilight hours when natural light is low. According to marine biologists, dawn and dusk are prime feeding times for sharks when prey is abundant. Dim lighting likely makes it easier for them to ambush prey.

Statistics show that nearly 50% of shark bites occur at dawn or dusk in Hawaii (Hawaii DLNR). Darkness provides cover for sharks approaching swimmers and surfers.

Many species like tiger sharks and great whites are nocturnal hunters. Night swimming should be avoided even in seemingly safe areas due to sharks patrolling after sunset. According to records, over 20 shark bites have occurred between 6 pm and 6 am in Hawaii since 2013.

Sharks are Attracted to Bright Colors and Shiny Objects

Sharks have exceptional eyesight and can detect the faintest shapes and colors even in dark or murky conditions. Their vision is drawn to high contrast colors like yellow, white and red which stand out underwater.

Statistics show nearly 60% of bites in Hawaii were on surfers with white, yellow or green boards (University of Georgia).

The glint of light reflecting off jewelry, watches and dive knives is also known to attract sharks from a distance. For safety, it’s best to avoid wearing bright bathing suits and reflective items when swimming in areas sharks inhabit.

Dull colors like black, blue or gray are less visible, reducing unwanted attention.

Murky Water and Drop Offs can Hide Sharks

Turbid water caused by storms, currents and tides can significantly reduce underwater visibility for swimmers. Sharks use this to their advantage, hiding just below the surface before ambushing prey. Over 75% of shark attacks have occurred in water with visibility less than 3 feet (NOAA).

Pay close attention in areas with churned up sand, floating debris or algae blooms.

Drop offs where shallow water quickly slopes into deeper sections are also dangerous. Sharks often swim along these underwater edges, perfectly camouflaged below. Roughly 20% of bites happen near channel openings, shoals, ledges etc.

It’s wise to avoid murky areas with little visibility and stick to clearer sections of beach instead.

Avoid Areas Sharks are Known to Frequent

Steer Clear of River Mouths and Harbor Entrances

River mouths and harbor entrances are common hunting grounds for sharks. These areas bring lots of fish, seals, and other prey that attract sharks. Steering clear of these zones greatly reduces your chances of an unfortunate encounter.

For example, tiger sharks are often found patrolling harbor entrances in Hawaii, looking for an easy meal. So be extra cautious when surfing or swimming near river mouths or harbors.

Exercise Caution Near Seal Colonies

Seals are a favorite prey of great white sharks. Where there are seal colonies, great whites are often not far behind. Use good judgment when recreating near seal rookeries.

A good rule of thumb is to stay at least 150 yards away from known seal colonies. Not only could sharks be nearby, but seals can become aggressive and territorial during certain times of the year.

Exercising caution around seal colonies will help you avoid surprise encounters with sharks focused on securing their next meal.

Pay Attention to Ocean Conditions and Your Surroundings

Don’t Enter If You Have Open Wounds

Sharks can detect blood and bodily fluids from up to a mile away. If you have any open cuts, scrapes, or wounds, avoid going in the ocean altogether. The scent of blood and plasma will attract sharks from far distances.

Wait until any injuries are completely healed before entering Hawaiian waters again.

Watch for Large Schools of Bait Fish

If you notice large groups of smaller fish near the shoreline, such as menpachi or nehu, there may be predator fish nearby looking for an easy meal. Sharks will chase after big schools of little fish in order to feed.

If you see signs of bait fish aggregating close to shore, do not go in the waters, as sharks may be encircling and preparing to feed.

Get Out if Sharks are Spotted or Alarms Sound

Many popular Hawaiian beaches now have advanced shark detection technology and towers manned by trained spotters. If you hear a shark alarm or are told to exit the water, do so calmly and quickly. The last thing you want is to be flailing around in a panic.

Once safely back on land, obey all instructions from lifeguards and local authorities regarding shark sightings.

According to research from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, there were a total of 129 confirmed shark encounters in Hawaii between 2013-2022, with 10 being fatal attacks. As the overall number of visitors to Hawaii climbs every year, shark interactions become more likely simply due to more people in the water.

While shark attacks in Hawaiian waters are still extremely rare events, basic precautions can help reduce your risk. Avoid swimming at sunrise, sunset or night, when visibility is lower and sharks are more active hunting. Do not enter murky waters or areas with known effluent pipes.

Steer clear of steep drop offs, channels, or coral reefs, where sharks tend to patrol.

Times with highest risk Early morning, dusk, and nighttime
Safest water conditions Clear waters close to shore
High risk areas Drop offs, channels, coral reefs

While in the water, be alert to your surroundings at all times. Do not wander out alone or stray far from shore. Swim, surf, or snorkel with others and have a plan in case of emergency. Avoid wearing shiny jewelry and bright contrasting colors, which can mimic the sheen of bait fish.

By staying aware and making cautious choices, you can still safely enjoy everything the beautiful Hawaiian waters have to offer.

Extra Precautions for Common Ocean Activities


When surfing in Hawaii, it’s important to be extra cautious of your surroundings. Though shark attacks are rare, taking some common sense precautions can help reduce your risk.

  • Avoid surfing near river mouths or channels after heavy rains, when runoff attracts bait fish that can draw sharks.
  • Don’t surf at dawn, dusk or night, when sharks are most active.
  • Don’t enter the water if you have open wounds or are bleeding.
  • Avoid wearing shiny jewelry that could mimic the sheen of fish scales.

By being alert and avoiding peak feeding times, surfers can continue to enjoy Hawaii’s epic waves with peace of mind.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Snorkeling and scuba diving open up Hawaii’s dazzling underwater world, but also increase your exposure to marine life, including sharks. Practicing safe habits is key:

  • Stay calm and avoid erratic movements if you spot a shark.
  • Refrain from feeding fish or wearing catch bags that could attract sharks.
  • Participate in guided group dives and snorkels rather than venturing out alone.
  • Get out of the water at the first sign of unusual shark behavior like circling or charging.

By respecting sharks and not interfering with their natural behavior, divers can responsibly enjoy Hawaii’s vibrant reefs.

Paddle Boarding

The popularity of paddle boarding has exploded in Hawaii. While the risk of shark encounters is low, it’s wise to take precautions:

  • Avoid paddling near river mouths or runoff areas, which can concentrate bait fish.
  • Prevent falls by practicing good balance, which reduces splashing that can attract sharks.
  • Keep pets off your board, as their unpredictable movements could mimic injured animals that sharks target.
  • Stay with a buddy who can assist if you fall and don’t panic or thrash around.

Paddle boarding is a peaceful way to experience Hawaii’s waters, made safer by using good judgment.


Kayaking allows you to access remote areas unattainable on land. But as an isolated solo paddler, extra care is warranted:

  • Avoid murky water, channels or river mouths teeming with bait fish.
  • Prevent falls by dressing appropriately for conditions and avoiding standing up or leaning over the side.
  • Travel in groups rather than solo to improve safety through numbers.
  • Get training in self-recovery techniques in case of capsize.

With knowledge of shark behavior and preparedness for emergencies, kayakers can revel in Hawaii’s hidden coves and mangroves.


Who doesn’t love frolicking in Hawaii’s gentle surf? But swimmers should realize they pose easy prey for sharks and take safeguards like:

  • Swimming in groups and staying close to shore to deter attacks.
  • Avoiding swimming at dawn/dusk when sharks are most active.
  • Refraining from excess splashing that can mimic struggling prey.
  • Exiting water at the first sign of sharks or abnormal behavior like bumping or circling.

While indisputably beautiful, we must remember the ocean is the shark’s domain, and conduct ourselves accordingly.


While the prospect of shark encounters can be scary, education and preventative measures go a long way. By being aware of peak activity times, understanding shark behavior, avoiding known hot spots, and paying close attention to conditions, your odds of staying safe in Hawaiian waters are excellent.

Focus on taking reasonable precautions without living in fear – sharks are a natural part of the delicate ocean ecosystem after all. Take these tips to heart so you can confidently enjoy surfing epic waves, snorkeling vibrant reefs and all the other remarkable ocean adventures Hawaii has to offer.

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