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Evidence of Hawai‘i Island Shark Finning

July 31, 2019, 3:54 PM HST (Updated July 31, 2019, 3:54 PM)
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Injured whitetip ocean sharks. PC: Aquatic Life Divers & Big Island Divers

Photographs of two oceanic whitetip sharks lacking fins, along with photographs of a dead, three-and-a-half-foot long whitetip reef shark, have caused alarm among marine biologists on Hawai‘i Island who are worried about finning.

The two oceanic whitetip sharks, a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, were observed alive off the coast of West Hawai‘i and were photographed and reported by dive tour operators, a Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) press release stated. Stacia Marcoux, a Fish & Habitat Monitoring Technician with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), said this behavior isn’t anything that hasn’t been seen before.

“Shark finning is not a new phenomenon, but the recent number of incidents is concerning,” Marcoux said. “This is especially true for the threatened oceanic whitetip. We hope that once people see these photos they will join us in condemning and discouraging this kind of activity regardless of its legality.”

In June, DAR colleague Megan Lamson found a whitetip reef shark finned and dead at Ka‘alu‘alu Bay. In addition to missing its dorsal fin, it had been gutted.

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While the finning of the two oceanic whitetip sharks in West Hawai‘i was reported to the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE), it’s difficult to investigate without knowing when it happened and who may be responsible, the release stated. Marcoux received photos provided by Big Island Divers and Aquatic Life Divers of the fin-less oceanic whitetips.

“It’s heartbreaking to see these terrible wounds on these individuals,” she said. “Sharks deserve our respect, and we’re encouraged that most tour operators are educating their clients about this issue. No one wants to see an injured shark swimming by.”

Marcoux and Lamson said pono fishing practices include shark protection because they help sustain healthy fish communities and a balanced marine ecosystem. Additionally, certain shark species are culturally and spiritually important.

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People can help sharks remain a keystone species in Hawaiian waters by discouraging shark feeding, fishing, finning or harassing activities. You can also reduce impacts to the coastal environment by packing out your own trash, collect any discarded fishing line or gear and cigarette butts.

Dead whitetip reef shark. PC: DLNR

“We can debunk the Jaws myth that sharks are man-eaters, and we encourage people to learn more about sharks and respect the role they play in our Ocean,” said Brian Neilson, DAR administrator.

Currently state law prohibits the take, killing, possession, sale, or offer for sale of whitetip reef shark and other shark species in West Hawai‘i. Take means to fish for, catch or harvest; or attempt to fish for, catch or harvest aquatic life.

It is illegal to intentionally catch a whitetip reef shark to remove a fin within the West Hawai‘i Regional Fishery Management Area. Additionally it is illegal to possess, sell, offer for sale, trade or distribute shark fins anywhere in Hawai‘i.

Anyone who sees any of these activities is asked to call the DLNR hotline at 808-643-DLNR (643-3567) or to report it via the free DLNRTip app available for both iPhones and android devices.

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