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Shark chomps on board at Kona surfing beach

The beasts that bit Wednesday and Sunday were tigers, a state expert says

By Leila Fujimori

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 05:45 a.m. HST, May 26, 2011

Courtesy Hawaii News Now@Caption1:<t-7>Bite marks were visible on the back of a surfboard belonging to Theresa Fernandez, who was trying to paddle away from a shark when the animal approached her Wednesday afternoon at a surf spot off Holualoa Bay.

A shark specialist says two Hawaii Island shark-biting incidents — involving bitten boards, not humans — in a span of four days at the same surf spot in Holualoa Bay were caused by tiger sharks.

"It's crazy that two people would have their boards bit in such close proximity in terms of the space and time," said Randy Honebrink, a shark specialist with the state Aquatic Resources Division. "There's no reason to think that it was necessarily the same shark."

At about 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, a surfer had just ridden a wave at Lyman's and was lying back down on her board when she felt a nudge underneath her, said Capt. Michael Grace of the Keauhou fire station. She was a mere 10 to 20 yards from shore at the south end of the bay.

The shark had come right up the tail of the board, clamped down over the skeg, pulling the back half of the 8-foot board under water, Honebrink said.

The surfer, identified by Grace as Theresa Fernandez, was trying to grab onto the nose of her surfboard and paddle away from the shark, then the shark let go, he said.

On Sunday at midday, a woman and her 3-year-old grandson were riding a stand-up paddleboard when a large shark knocked them both off the board about 20 feet offshore and took a bite out of the board, but didn't touch them.

It's hard to say why the sharks decided not to feed on the humans, Honebrink said. The sharks did not bite through either board.

Honebrink said in both cases turtles were in the area, and said the west side of the Big Island is known for an abundance of sharks.

Both cases were at about midday in about 10 feet of water, but illustrate that sharks are not selective in what they try to feed on.

"No way would a shark mistake that for a turtle," Honebrink said, referring to the enormous paddleboard.

He said he didn't know why they went for something other than turtles, and why the sharks don't seem to hang around "once they realize they made a mistake."

Honebrink said the clear teeth impressions left on the surfboard Wednesday provide the necessary measurements that will help predict how long the shark was, but he declined to provide his estimate until he receives confirmation from Florida experts.

The harder material of the stand-up paddleboard bitten Sunday and its rubber surface material yielded poorer teeth impressions and prevented Honebrink from determining whether it was the same shark, but concluded it was definitely smaller than a 16-foot estimate made Sunday.

Honebrink still recommends beachgoers avoid the water at dawn and dusk, although these and some serious and fatal cases illustrate tiger shark attacks can occur in the middle of the day.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources shut down area beaches yesterday. A search by fire helicopter along five miles of the Kona coastline yielded no shark sightings.






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