The Maui News

WAILUKU, Maui (April 8) - The news crackled across the island and the state. A surfer died after a shark attack in the waters off Maui. The news carried a primordial chill for humans who have long since evolved from naked apes preyed on by wild creatures.

That chill was amplified by movies such as "Jaws" and the seemingly endless running of a wide variety of shark documentaries and their close-ups of menacing teeth on television. The understandable emotional response should be tempered by calm reason.

The death of the surfer Wednesday morning was the first confirmed shark death in Hawaii in 12 years. Consider that in addition to the 1.2 million people who live, work and play in Hawaii, there are about 7 million visitors to the islands each year - some 2.3 million of them coming to Maui County.

Each of those millions of visitors and hundreds of thousands of residents more than likely spent time in the ocean, many of them repeatedly. Nearly all of them without incident.

According to the leading authority on worldwide shark attacks - The International Shark Attack File (ISAF), operated by the Florida Museum of Natural History since 1988 - there were 100 alleged incidents of shark-human interaction reported in 2003. Only four resulted in fatalities with one each in Australia, California, Fiji and South Africa.

There were 31 nonfatal attacks in the waters off Florida and only four in Hawaii. By way of comparison, in Maui County alone there have been six deaths due to traffic incidents this year alone.

According to the ISAF, the odds of anyone being attacked by a shark are 1 in 11.5 million. Dying from the attack is less than 1 in 264 million.

For the individuals and their families, shark attacks are not a matter of numbers, but the statistics speak very loudly for everyone else who enjoys being in and on the ocean, which, after all, is a wild place, not some risk-controlled theme park.

Considering the number of people going into the water, the chances of encountering a shark are much more remote than all the other dangers we take for granted. That's why such fatalities are news - they are unusual and rare.

April 12, 2004

The Maui News: www.mauinews.com



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