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Sharks in Hawaii: What to Know About Each Type

No matter how many times we read the stats about the chances of being devoured by a shark – it seems that Spielberg has indeed ruined all of our lives. Actually, he has, in more ways than one, for those who watched the tragic rehash of Indiana Jones.

But Jaws.  Now THAT is a movie that stays firmly wedged in your mind. The image of the Great White monster prowling the seas like a serial killer, chomping that boat in half and terrorizing the tiny town to a nail-biting soundtrack. It’s what movies are made of – but it has also left us traumatized about sharks.

And, Shark Week on the Discovery Channel isn’t helping much.  The truth about shark attacks is they don’t happen as often as you might think.

There are a million and one reasons to be afraid of nature’s greatest predators. For a start, some of them have over twenty thousand teeth and can smell blood from a gazillion miles away. Second, all that crap about jabbing them in the eyes doesn’t even work, as their eyes roll back in their head when they attack, to stop that very defense mechanism.

Also, they have those eyes – those dead eyes that seem to convey not a single morsel of emotion. In short, there is good reason to be terrified, especially as they attack from below, meaning that you don’t even see them coming.

So, now we have traumatized you a little bit more, but we can say that not all sharks are cold hearted killers. It would be like saying all humans are the equivalent of Charles Manson. Also, over seventy percent of people attacked by sharks manage to survive, even if they are missing a limb or two.

Some seem to think it’s a Hawaii fact that they run the risk of being devoured by a shark. But that’s not true.

The chances of being attacked by these toothy guys are pretty low.  You are more likely to be killed by a cow or a rogue champagne cork…

But, just to keep you prepped, check out these common sharks that you could find around the beaches of Hawaii…

Great White Sharks

Great white sharks

We have good news and bad news on this.

The bad news is that the Great White is one of the scariest mo’ fo’s known to man. The good news is that they are quite rare in Hawaii. But, when we say rare, we don’t mean that they never show up to the party.

Great Whites are far from delicate eaters too; they don’t like to nibble daintily – they don’t even chew! They are more a terror (sic) and swallow kind of diner. Yet, for the past 60 years there have only been 8 confirmed sightings of these guys around Hawaii’s islands, so don’t start canceling your plans just yet.

Tiger Sharks

Tiger sharks, shark cages

Tiger Sharks are around and they are just as knee-knocking scary as their brothers. In fact, it was a Tiger Shark who was responsible for ripping the arm from surf legend Bethany Hamilton, off the shores of Kauai.

These guys are the most common and aggressive of the residents that live in Hawaii, not including the local surfers, of course. What is kind of irritating about getting bitten by a Tiger Shark (other than the loss of limb and near death experience), is that these dudes weren’t even looking to eat you!

Tiger Sharks attack because they mistake you for something they like the taste of more. There’s an old joke that surfers get attacked because they look like seals in their wetsuits. It’s actually not as dumb or farfetched as it sounds, when you take a look at the image…

However, if you are going to get munched, you kind of don’t want it to be part of some mistaken identity thing.  Check out this guide to shark diving via

The odds of getting mauled by a Tiger Shark are much lower than you would think. That’s why shark cage diving is a popular activity. You are more likely to die from rolling out of bed. However, if you really want to reduce the risks, you shouldn’t get in the water with an open wound (remember the blood sensing thing?). Also, bad news guys and gals – you shouldn’t urinate in the water, because that helps them track you down. Now there’s a Hawaii fun fact for you!

Bull Sharks

Bull shark in the water

The Bull Shark is an angry little guy and third in line, when it comes to the award for shark most likely to attack you. They like to hang out in both salt and sweet water, meaning that they get around.  Trust me when we say it’s way cooler going on a professional shark diving tour than running into a shark while on a Maui snorkeling tour

Another problem with the Bull is that they like to live in tropical waters and be close to the action, which means that they often chill near high population areas. Human meat isn’t their first choice.  In fact, odds are they don’t even like the taste, like a lot of humans and spinach. They tend to attack out of curiosity or just because it’s something to do.

They are the football hooligans of the water. They even look like football hooligans – all brutishly short and stocky, with blunt features and a kill-the-quarterback attitude.

If you want to reduce your chances of running into a bull shark, then avoid estuaries and swimming in parts of the ocean joined by a river mouth, as this is their favorite haunt.

Hammerhead Sharks

Hammerhead sharks

Hammerheads are in the cool category, when it comes to sharks. They look awesome with their weird shaped bonces and they don’t really care if you want to come and hang with them. They aren’t interested in picking a fight, but they will smash you down, if you start one.

These guys shouldn’t be taken lightly, but they can be observed without screaming and thrashing and praying to Odin to please save your soul.

They have a pretty small mouth, so you probably won’t end up like Jonah in the belly of the whale, or lodged in the throat of a hammerhead. Hammerheads have the coolest eyes, allowing them to see all around.

The grown-ups like to flock to the shallower waters of Hilo Bay, Kaneohe Bay and Waimea Bay, to birth their young. You can also go diving with hammerheads, although stay away from their young or you may just make mama mad.

Bottom line – Hawaii has some scary sharks.  If they attack, it will hurt like hell and could just be fatal. But, this doesn’t mean that you should steer clear of the waters. Be smart, be sensible, stay out of murky waters, always surf with a buddy, and buy some shark repellent if necessary. check out the local Hawaiian information and don’t pee in the ocean.

Pro Tip- or the pool.  That’s just gross!!



  • Elizabeth L

    Aloha! I’m Elizabeth L. At LiveYourAloha, I am responsible for writing about sightseeing tours and Hawaiian culture. For the last 12 years, I’ve been working as a tour guide in Hawaii. It’s been a great way to see the world and learn about new cultures. I love nature and the outdoors, and have even climbed two of the world’s highest peaks! Making connections and showing my visitors the incredible beauty of these beautiful islands is a passion of mine. When I’m not out giving tours, you’ll likely find me on an invigorating hike or enjoying local cuisine on the beach.