KAILUA-KONA — Dramatic photographs of two oceanic whitetip sharks, lacking fins, along with photographs of a dead, three-and-a-half-foot long whitetip reef shark is raising concern among marine biologists on Hawaii Island.
The two oceanic whitetip sharks, a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, were observed alive off the coast of West Hawaii and were photographed and reported by dive tour operators, the Department of Land and Natural Resources said in a press release Wednesday.
“Shark finning is not a new phenomenon, but the recent number of incidents is concerning,” Stacia Marcoux, a fish and habitat monitoring technician with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources, DAR, 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 Kaalualu Bay. In addition to missing its dorsal fin it had been gutted.
While the finning of the two oceanic whitetip sharks in West Hawaii was reported to the DLNR, it’s difficult to investigate without knowing when it happened and who may be responsible, the department said.
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 in the release that sharks are apex predators and vital contributors to a healthy marine ecosystem. Many shark species are long-lived, they reproduce slowly, and anything that happens to threaten them can lead to sudden populations declines.
They added that 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.
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.
“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,” Brian Neilson, DAR administrator, said.
Currently state law prohibits the take, killing, possession, sale, or offer for sale of whitetip reef shark and other shark species in West Hawaii.