Warning signs gone but caution advised after woman bitten by shark
By LILA FUJIMOTO
KAANAPALI -- Warning signs were gone from a 3-mile stretch of West Maui
coastline this morning, two days after a shark took a huge bite from the
thigh of a Haiku woman swimming off Kaanapali.
No large sharks were spotted during an hourlong flight from Maalaea Bay
to Napili in a Coast Guard helicopter Saturday, said Francis Oishi,
aquatic biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural
But officials were cautioning oceangoers to stay away from humpback
whales, following speculation that the shark that attacked the woman was
drawn to the area by a pod of whales.
``When the whales are close to shore like that, it's not a good idea for
people to go out and be near the whale,'' Oishi said. ``Sharks are very
Robyne Knutson, 29, was in stable condition Saturday at Maui Memorial
Medical Center after undergoing surgery Friday to her right leg. Doctors
were optimistic that proper circulation could be restored to the injured
leg, said Boyd Kleefisch, hospital administrator.
Gary Moniz, acting chief of law enforcement for DLNR, said officials
believe the woman was bitten by a shark, based on witnesses' statements,
although the size and kind of shark had not been determined.
Witnesses said Knutson and her boyfriend, Bruce C. Brown, had been
swimming near a pod of whales in depths of 50 to 60 feet. The two were
at least a quarter-mile offshore in front of the Whaler ***inium in
Kaanapali when the crew of the 64-foot catamaran Gemini heard cries for
help at about 10:45 a.m. Friday, as the boat was nearing shore to pick
up a charter at Dig-Me Beach fronting Whalers Village.
``All of a sudden we heard somebody screaming for help,'' said Steve
Dettwiler, operations manager of Gemini Charters. ``We could see this
guy; he was way out.''
The boat immediately backed up to reach the man, Dettwiler said. ``We
could see he was dragging a girl with him, and he yelled to us and said,
`Shark attack,' '' Dettwiler said. ``He said he kicked the shark in the
head and it let go and took off.''
While Dettwiler took the helm, captain J. Dushane and crew member Jeff
Worthen helped bring the couple aboard, wrapping the woman's leg in
towels. ``She was conscious and breathing, but she was definitely in a
state of shock,'' said Dettwiler, who used his cellular telephone to
call for fire and ambulance crews, which quickly arrived at the popular
beach where about 150 people were gathered.
Dushane carried the woman off the boat to the beach, where Dr. Betsy
Schusser examined Knutson before paramedics arrived to take her by
ambulance to the hospital. Muscle and skin were gone from above the
woman's knee to her thigh, said Schusser, a family practitioner at the
nearby West Maui Healthcare Center in Whalers Village.
``This was very serious,'' Schusser said. ``She was in shock when I got
down there a few minutes after it happened.''
Maui Ocean Activities manager Mike Carter, who ran to get oxygen and
assisted with administering first aid, said he saw teeth marks below the
woman's missing flesh. He estimated her wound to be 14 to 15 inches
long. ``Everybody did what they should do under the circumstances,''
Dettwiler said. ``We're just praying she's going to be OK.''
Both Dettwiler and Chas Wilkerson, captain of the Wind Warrior charter
boat, said they saw a pod of whales in the area at the time the woman
The mother, calf and escort whale were in calm, clear waters about 150
yards from the swimmers, Wilkerson estimated.
Maui County lifeguard Alan Akana speculated that the mother whale was
giving birth at the time, causing the pod to remain in the area even
after the attack. He said *** in the afterbirth may have drawn the
shark to the area.
``You should always be worried about things like this; if you see a
whale out there in a pod, leave them alone,'' Akana said. ``If you know
whales are out there birthing, just stay away.''
State and federal laws require people to stay at least 300 feet from the
endangered marine mammals, which are wintering in Maui waters.
After the attack, DLNR officers and Maui County lifeguards warned people
to stay out of the water from Wahikuli County Wayside Park to S Turns
At Black Rock, north of where the woman was picked up, about 200 people
were in the water when Wilkerson ferried a DLNR officer to tell swimmers
When people heard about the shark attack, ``the tourists were a bit
shaken up,'' Wilkerson said. ``They were walking on water. They were
climbing up on Black Rock.''
While he didn't see any sharks in the water Friday morning, Wilkerson
said a 12- to 15-foot shark had been spotted off Black Rock in the past
couple of weeks.
Observers said sharks usually don't frequent the waters off Kaanapali
because of its calm waters and boating activity. There's also little for
the sharks to feed on in the area.
``The Kaanapali area is not known for frequent shark sightings,'' Oishi
``It's very, very rare,'' Dettwiler said. ``It was a very freak
accident. The conditions were clear. The water was clear.''
DLNR officers posted yellow warning signs along the coast from Hanakaoo
Beach Park to Honokowai after the attack and notified nearby hotels so
they could caution guests.
The warning signs were removed at dusk Saturday after Oishi and National
Marine Fisheries Service biologist John Naughton saw no large sharks
during their flight in a Coast Guard helicopter. ``All we saw were
healthy whales,'' Oishi said.
People were at the beaches, which remained open Saturday. But most
beachgoers were staying close to shore.
At the Kaanapali Beach Hotel, general manager Mike White said he hadn't
talked with any unhappy guests.
``Obviously, everyone is . . . a little concerned,'' he said. ``Once you
tell them it was way, way offshore, they're much more comfortable with
Injured whale may have lured shark to attack woman
By TIMOTHY HURLEY
WAILUKU -- An injured humpback whale could have acted as the bait that
lured the shark that bit a Haiku woman in the waters off Kaanapali, a
marine scientist said Monday.
John Naughton, National Marine Fisheries Service biologist, said he flew
in a Coast Guard helicopter over the waters off Kaanapali several hours
after the Friday morning's shark attack and observed a whale that
appeared to be in trouble.
The injured whale was the smaller animal in a two-whale pod swimming
about a mile and a half offshore. It had large white patches that looked
like exposed blubber and scarring.
Naughton speculated that the shark that bit into the right thigh of
29-year-old Robyne Knutson could have been drawn to the area by the
injured animal. He said it is typical of tiger sharks to shadow an
injured whale in hopes of finding some easy prey.
``The tiger shark is one of the great scavengers of the sea,'' he said.
Naughton added that based on the 13-inch size of the wound and accounts
of the event, it is likely that a 12- to 13-foot tiger shark attacked
But whether any whales were in the vicinity of the woman is in question.
While several witnesses said they saw whales in the area, Knutson's
boyfriend, Bruce C. Brown, said this morning there were no whales within
a mile and a quarter of the couple.
Brown said they were not looking for whales, but were merely swimming
for exercise and fun.
``It was 85-foot visibility. The water was crystal clear,'' Brown said.
Brown said he and Knutson are disturbed by reports that they were
chasing or harassing whales.
``All we were doing was swimming,'' he said. ``We are experienced
blue-water swimmers, and we like to be out from the shrieking
Brown said he was also upset by rumors that they were swimming through a
``We are not stupid people. If I had found a *** slick on the water,
I wouldn't have been*** out there.''
National Marine Fisheries Service enforcement agent Victor Honda said he
has not opened an investigation into the matter, though he does intend
to talk to the couple at some point. Federal law prohibits the approach
of humpback whales within 100 yards.
The attack reportedly occurred in 50 to 60 feet of water less than a
quarter-mile off Kaanapali Beach. Knutson was swimming with Brown in
front of the Whaler ***inium late Friday morning when the catamaran
Gemini heard cries for help. Brown kicked the shark in the head while it
was biting Knutson, prompting the animal to let go and swim off.
Naughton, speaking from his Honolulu office, said Brown did the right
thing in taking aggressive action against the shark. A number of
swimmers and surfers have survived shark attacks in recent years by
kicking or butting or poking a shark in the eye.
``It sounds hokey, but a very aggressive reaction seems to work,'' he
Naughton said he would advise anyone to steer clear of any injured, sick
and dead whales. He said swimmers should stay at least a mile away.
The last reported Maui shark attack occurred in August 1996 when David
Nanod Jr., 19, was bitten by an 8-foot shark on his right calf while
surfing off Paukukalo.
Nanod described punching the animal several times before its jaws
Naughton said he's asked government officials and boat captains to keep
a lookout for the injured whale he spotted from the air, in case it
should reappear near shore again.
Knutson, meanwhile, remains in stable condition at Maui Memorial Medical
Center this morning following another surgery on her leg.
In a letter to the editor submitted Monday, Brown calls the attack ``the
most horrific experience of our lives.''
In the letter, Brown thanks the many people who came to their aid
following the incident.
One of those people was Dr. Betsy Schusser, a family practitioner with
the West Maui Healthcare Center, who examined Knutson on the beach.
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