Are There Sharks In Hawaii: A Surfers Guide - Green Iguana Surf Camp

Are There Sharks In Hawaii: A Surfers Guide

Surfing in Hawaii is a bucket-list item for many. The gorgeous beaches, consistent large swells, and glorious sunshine – what more could you ask for? 

However, if you’re not used to swimming in tropical waters, you are likely concerned about the potential dangers. Specifically, sharks. 

If you’re hoping to surf in Hawaii, but want to be as well-informed as possible on the local sea life, you’re in luck!

Check out the information below – it consists of everything you need to know, from the rate of shark attacks in Hawaii to the animal’s cultural significance. 

How Common Are Shark Attacks In Hawaii? 

The chances of being attacked by a shark anywhere in the world are very low. There is a large misconception that, just because sharks are present, they will try to attack human beings.

Generally, sharks don’t like to eat people. On the very rare occasion that a shark attacks a human, it is usually thought to be a case of mistaken identity. 

Saying that, you have probably heard that Hawaii is one of the most dangerous places for shark attacks. Technically, this isn’t wrong. Hawaii is one of the top five most common places for shark attacks to take place.

In fact, since 1828, Hawaii has had around 159 shark attacks, with two-thirds of these taking place in either Oahu or Maui, prime surfing spots. 

However, if you were ready to pack your bags and take the surf trip of a lifetime to the sport’s spiritual birthplace, don’t let this put you off. When you consider the number of people who swim and surf in Hawaii’s waters, the rate of shark attacks is actually pretty low.

On average there are around 3 shark attacks per year in Hawaii, but it is incredibly rare for these attacks to be fatal. 

Commonly Spotted Sharks In Hawaii 

Even though getting attacked by a shark is very rare, we do recommend being as clued up as possible. There are over 40 species of sharks in Hawaii, but only around 4 of those species are commonly spotted close to the shore. 

White-Tip Reef Shark 

White-tip reef sharks are medium-sized sharks characterized by their white-tipped tail and dorsal fins. Their bodies are slender so they can move through small crevices and caves in the coral reef. 

Generally, you don’t have to worry too much about these guys. They are nocturnal and like to spend their days resting in caves with others of their kind. At night time, they become active hunters, searching for bottom-dwelling prey that hides in reef holes. 

In fact, white-tip reef sharks need to be more concerned about us than we are about them. They were once an abundant species. However, due to overfishing, they are now considered to be potentially threatened with extinction. 

Sandbar Shark 

The sandbar shark is one of the world’s largest coastal sharks. Their name alludes to their preference for the sandy bottoms of the ocean, though they are also called brown sharks, due to their darker color. 

Sandbar sharks have a relatively heavy body, large dorsal and pectoral fins, a rounded nose, and a strangely graceful way of moving. Although there have been reports of sandbar sharks attacking humans, it is not very common at all, as they tend to avoid beaches. 

In fact, just like the white-tip reef shark, they should be more concerned about us, than us about them. It is the primary targeted species for shark fishing in the eastern US, due to its moderate size, palatable meat, and high fin-to-carcass ratio. 

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark 

The scalloped hammerhead shark has an unmistakable appearance. They can be distinguished from other fish by their wide, scalloped, hammer-shaped head. They are active predators and use their odd features to consume creatures that are hard to capture (e.g. sing rays).

Although scalloped hammerheads have been implicated in biting some people (however, these are unconfirmed cases), they are generally very shy and would prefer to avoid humans altogether. They are very unlikely to show aggression toward people. 

Like the two species above, we represent a much larger threat to the scalloped hammerhead shark than it does to us (there’s a theme emerging here, isn’t there?). Unfortunately, these cool-looking creatures have been overfished in pretty much every place they reside. 

Tiger Shark 

Out of all the sharks on this list, it is this one that causes the most concern for humans. The tiger shark is the second largest predatory shark in the world, behind only the great white. They are aggressive predators, known to eat pretty much anything they’re able to capture. 

This is what makes tiger sharks dangerous. Great white sharks are more likely to attack humans than tiger sharks. However, they often swim away after biting, as they have a more particular palate. Tiger sharks have a less discerning palate and are less likely to swim away. 

Tiger shark attacks occur most frequently on Maui due to its desirable habitat and high volume of visitors. However, these attacks are still particularly rare, and you can minimize this risk further by following some of the safety precautions below. Check them out!

Staying Safe

Even though shark attacks might seem random, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you are safe whilst surfing and swimming in the beautiful waters of Hawaii. 

  1. Don’t surf or swim alone. It is always useful to have an extra pair of hands and eyes just in case trouble occurs. 
  2. Don’t swim near swollen river mouths after heavy rain. This is when animal carcasses get carried into the ocean. 
  3. Avoid swimming at twilight or in the dark. This is when sharks are thought to be most active. 
  4. Sharks can sense blood and urine, so don’t go in the water with bleeding wounds and always use the restroom before surfing! 
  5. Follow the instructions of lifeguards. Lifeguards have a wealth of local knowledge and are always keeping an eye out for your safety. 
  6. Don’t splash unnecessarily. This may attract sharks. 
  7. Be aware of the other wildlife. If fish or turtles seem to be fleeing the area, you should too. 
  8. If sharks are known to be present, don’t swim! 

Hawaiian Culture 

If you’re traveling to Hawaii to surf, it is also important to understand a bit about their local culture. Although we recommend following the precautions above to ensure that you are as protected as possible from shark attacks, sharks are held in very high esteem by Native Hawaiian people. 

Sharks have played a large role in Hawaiian spirituality. Some were considered to be equivalent to royalty. In fact, when a close family member passed, it was thought that they could reincarnate into the form of a shark.

That shark would then become a protector and guardian spirit for the family. 

Sharks play a crucial role in healthy ocean ecosystems and play an important role in Hawaiian culture. As a surfer, you are in their habitat. As such, even though sharks pose a slight threat to humans, it is important to remember that you also pose a threat to them, and that respect is of the utmost importance. 


Surfing in Hawaii is an incredible experience. The white-sandy beaches, crystal blue waters, and consistent large swells make for a very unique trip. However, it is important to always be aware of the potential dangers.

Although shark attacks are rare, they can pose a threat to surfers in Hawaii. Follow our safety tips to ensure that you are doing all you can to prevent injury.

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