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By Claudine San Nicolas

MAUI, Hawaii (The Maui News, Dec. 22) – While returning from a mile-long swim off Keawakapu Beach on Wednesday morning, San Diego visitor Jonathan Genant saw a frightening apparition coming toward him – a large shark.

"By the time it got to me, I could see his mouth was just huge, it was gigantic," said Genant, a 29-year-old co-founder of an Internet search marketing firm called Better Deals LLC.

Genant was alone in the water when the shark bit his left hand, taking his pinkie and a portion of his ring finger. The palm of the hand was lacerated.

The attack occurred at about 11:45 a.m. and led authorities to close the stretch from Polo Beach to Kamaole Beach Park III until noon today.

Authorities believe it was a tiger shark that attacked Genant, although the swimmer said he first thought it was a great white.

"It was huge. I couldn’t tell what kind of shark, but it was definitely huge," Genant said in an interview from a bed in the Maui Memorial Medical Center emergency room.

Genant’s left hand was wrapped in bandages, and the fingernails of his right hand were still stained with dried blood Wednesday afternoon. He was undergoing surgery Wednesday evening.

A Maui Fire Department crew flying over the area after the attack spotted a 12-foot tiger shark in the ocean, and police officers on shore reported seeing what appeared to be a tiger shark in the water.

Fire Battalion Chief Alan Pascua said the water was a little murky. Bystanders also told authorities they saw turtles swimming in the water at the time of the attack and believed it may have been the turtles that attracted the tiger shark to the area.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources and county ocean safety officers shut down the beaches fronting the Wailea Resort to the Kamaole area of Kihei.

State Shark Task Force spokesman Randy Honebrink said records show that most shark attacks occur in November and December, though it’s unclear why. Sharks regularly swim around all islands, he said, and there’s no specific area or beach where they would be more likely to be found.

There have been several shark attacks on swimmers off Kihei, but the most serious attacks have been off Olowalu, where there have been three attacks, including one that was fatal, since 1992. The third attack, in May 2002, led the state to post shark warning signs along the beach at Olowalu in an area popular with snorkelers and surfers.

Genant said he was about 400 yards offshore in water about 30 feet deep when the attack occurred. Once he saw the shark coming at him, Genant extended his arms out toward it and knew immediately that the shark intended to take a bite.

"He was going to take a piece of me," Genant said. The shark tugged at his left arm.

"I heard a break. It was crisp, very powerful."

The shark then let go and Genant said he became "a little bit frantic," wondering whether the shark would attack him a second time. When he determined that the shark left, Genant went to work at minimizing his blood loss by applying pressure from his right hand against his left.

Genant said he swam back to shore on his back, all the while screaming for help in the water.

He was almost on the shore when several surfers and other beach goers assisted him in.

"I felt lucky to get back into the beach," Genant said.

Hal Bringeland of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, was on shore when he heard Genant’s screams for help and saw the swimmer in distress. He grabbed his body board and along with another bystander brought Genant into shore, helping Genant hold his injured arm on the board.

Bringeland’s 11-year-old son, Mitchell, said he heard the commotion and immediately got out of the water. Others at the beach did not need encouragement from lifeguards to stay out.

"We are going to the pool," said Bringeland’s wife, Carmen, and she walked to her car with their two daughters, 7-year-old Stephanie and 9-year-old Carley.

"We are going to make shark fin soup," Hal Bringeland joked.

Another beach goer, Brock Smeaton, said he had just arrived at the beach when he heard the commotion.

"He was yelling, ’help, help, help,’ " said Smeaton. "I’m just amazed the people went in to help."

Genant said he was on Maui to spend Christmas with his family, including his parents, a brother, a sister and her husband and a nephew.

He said he’s been visiting Maui since he was a young boy and has been in the same waters off Wailea frequently without incident. On Wednesday, he headed into the ocean just before 11 a.m., swimming out about 400 yards from the Wailea Elua Village before heading north toward Kihei, parallel to the shoreline.

"I’ve been swimming there for years," he said.

A former triathlete, Genant described himself as a competent swimmer. He said he didn’t try to strike the shark when it was approaching him, but he did remember trying to protect himself from the attack.

He said he didn’t see much of the shark except for its white belly and smooth gray top.

Having survived the attack, Genant said he was initially upset about being a victim but quickly remembered that things could have been worse.

"I do feel lucky. . . . It did spare my life."

Recent Shark Attacks In Maui County Waters

There have been at least 11 shark incidents in Maui County waters since 2000, including three near beaches in Kihei, in addition to Wednesday’s incident at Keawakapu. The reported attacks were:

December 23, 2005

The Maui News:

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