Guardians of the Deep
we hear about shark attacks in Hawaii, we can’t help wondering,
a special fondness for Hawaiian wildlife and having had experiences with
sharks, I would like to share my mana’o
(ideas) on this subject.
up as a “surf rat” on Oahu I had many opportunities to share the waves
with “the men in gray suits.” Their ominous silhouettes were regularly
spotted gliding through breaking waves. Occasionally, they even swam right
certain spots, like Kewalo Basin where sharks are common, the regular
surfers stayed in the water even when sharks were around, while newcomers
would paddle frantically toward shore at the sight or even mention of a
shark. Though I tried not to show it I
was a bit unnerved by the thought that my legs dangling off my
surfboard must look like juicy drumsticks under water.
the numerous shark attacks where survivors were bitten just once or even
“spit out”, I think sharks may not particularly like the taste of
human flesh. I would say that humans are not a shark’s natural food, but
I think anything in the ocean is fair game for the whims of a predacious
in the ocean I’m visiting the sharks’ house. I know and accept the
risks. For me, Hawaiian waters are too good to stay out. Do I think shark
attacks are on the rise? Is there something going on? I don’t know;
compared to what? Are shark attacks supposed to happen on a regular
schedule? From what I’ve learned about sharks I think that occasional
shark attacks are rare but normal occurrences. I’m surprised more people
don’t get bitten. As swimmers we have no idea of how often we are in the
company of sharks because they see us long before we see them.
working with the monk seal program on remote Hawaiian atolls, I felt a
renewed appreciation of sharks. Fishing is restricted around these tiny
islands and one can value the pristine ocean conditions and see how
abundant sharks are in an ecosystem with minimal human impact. I’d often
see sharks while bathing, washing my clothes or cleaning dishes there. If
I encountered them while snorkeling I’d keep a leery eye on them. Once,
while snorkeling, a six-foot gray reef shark began to circle me. My heart
pounded as I pulled out my camera. I swam slowly toward the shore as their
numbers increased from one, to five, to ten. Thinking that I was going to
die, I started snapping pictures. I figured maybe someone would find my
camera and see what happened to me. But then I started to pay attention to
the beauty of the sharks. My heartbeat slowed and I even pushed some of
them away with my hands as I finally walked out of the water. I was intact
and in awe. Looking back I saw dozens of circling sharks, and enjoyed one
of the greatest experiences of my life. I was hooked, and I have loved
sharks ever since.
mid-summer, large tiger sharks come close to the shore to eat fledgling
albatrosses that landed in the water. I was fortunate to work with a
national television crew filming the phenomenon – we boated up to the
tigers, jumped in the water and filmed them as they tried to eat the
sharks are as thick as cattle under water and usually move with the grace
of a giant catfish. When they strike they can be extremely swift and
powerful. At the moment of impact they cover their eyes with a protective
membrane rendering them virtually blind. Because of this they often miss
shark species inhabit Hawaiian waters. The Hawaiian word mano is a general
term for shark. The white-tipped reef shark, known as mano lalakea,
is common in shallow reef areas and is harmless to humans. The niuhi,
however, were man-eating sharks. It is said that the eyes of the niuhi
glowed in the dark.
niuhi was a sport reserved for kings and favored persons.
literature suggests that the niuhi were
great white sharks that rarely ply Hawaiian waters, though many believe
that the term could also refer to the more common tiger or mako sharks.
bodies of sharks were used in old Hawaii in several ways. The flesh was
occasionally eaten, but only by those allowed to eat it. The skin was used
as sandpaper or stretched over drums, and the teeth were made into cutting
tools, weapons and decorative ornaments.
play a prominent role in Hawaiian culture. Many Hawaiian families revere
sharks as their family guardians or aumakua.
Such families are said to have mano
kanaka relatives who were either born as sharks or who died and then
were transformed into sharks. Mano Kanaka
were distinct from ‘mano¯
‘ia’ or edible sharks. Guardian sharks were cared for and petted
by devoted relatives known as kahu. In return, the Mano Kanaka
would protect their kahu and
their family from ocean dangers.
Two Hawaiian proverbs referring to
sharks are: He mano holo a ina
ke ali‘i (The chief is a shark
that travels on land) and an oath, Pau Pele, pau mano (I’ll die by fire or be eaten by a shark).