Does Maui Have Sharks? (Types, Photos & Attacks Explained)

Maui is the second largest Hawaiian island located in the southeastern portion of the island chain.

Nicknamed “The Valley Isle”, Maui is most known for its beaches and unique geographic features. More than 2 million visitors come to Maui each year to explore the natural landscapes this island has to offer.

Whether you are planning a vacation in Maui, or already visiting, there are many things you can do and explore while you’re there. Visitors can enjoy learning more about the unique marine life in Maui waters at the Maui Ocean Center.

If you want to do a bit of traveling while on the island, Hana Highway is a long, winding road through the rainforest that offers scenic views of waterfalls and overlooks.

But if you’re planning on enjoying the waters, you might be wondering:

Does Maui have sharks? How common are shark attacks in Maui, HI?

Photo by Florent Lamoureux/Flickr

Maui attracts several different shark species due to the abundance of coral reefs surrounding the island. The most common sharks that have been sighted in Maui waters include:

  • Whitetip reef sharks
  • Blacktip reef sharks
  • Sandbar sharks
  • Scalloped hammerhead sharks
  • Galapagos sharks
  • Tiger sharks

Shark attacks are more common in Maui than on the other Hawaiian islands. However, they’re still fairly rare. Since between 1995 and 2022 (the last 27 years) there have been around 52 confirmed attacks, or roughly two per year.

Let’s take a closer look at the types of sharks that live near Maui, photos, shark attack history and statistics, and more.

Types of Sharks at Maui

Most of the shark species in Hawaiian waters belong to the Carcharhinidae family, commonly referred to as requiem sharks.

All of the shark species listed above, except for the scalloped hammerhead, are requiem sharks.

Let’s take a closer look at the different shark species that are commonly found in Maui waters!

Whitetip Reef Shark

By Unknown authorPublic Domain

Whitetip reef sharks are attracted to Maui waters because they prefer to live in shallow waters near coral reefs.

Much of their diet consists of small reef fish, which make Maui a perfect habitat for this species.

Named for their white markings on the tips of their fins, whitetip sharks are fairly small compared to other species. Some whitetip sharks can reach lengths up to 7 feet (2.1 m), but most are typically under 5 feet (1.5 m).

Maui residents consider the whitetip reef shark a guardian spirit, known as an aumakua, and greatly admire this species. Although they are commonly sighted in Hawaiian waters, whitetip reef sharks are bottom dwellers that like to rest on the sandy ocean floor.

Whitetip reef sharks are not known to be aggressive and are willing to share their territory with other whitetip sharks. Whitetip shark ranges are relatively small, traveling no more than two miles outside of their home base.

Blacktip Reef Shark

Albert kok, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Similar to the whitetip reef shark, the blacktip reef shark is named for the black color located on the tips of its fins.

Blacktip sharks live in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and favor shallow water habitats near reefs and shelf breaks.

Blacktip sharks are fairly small. Most blacktip sharks in Maui waters are less than 5 feet (1.5 m) in length.

Hawaiian residents also praise the blacktip reef shark as a guardian spirit. Blacktip sharks inhabit Maui waters due to their preferred coral reef habitat, which supplies them with their primary food sources of reef fish.

Blacktip sharks are not responsible for many shark attacks.

However, there are reports of people that have been bitten by a blacktip shark while swimming in shallow, coral reef waters in other parts of the world. These sharks may also become aggressive near speared fish, which would be considered a provoked incident.

Sandbar Shark

Brian Gratwicke, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Sandbar sharks can be found all around the world, including in Maui. Female sandbar sharks are more likely to be sighted in Maui waters nearshore during summer months to give birth to sandbar pups.

Although sandbar sharks prefer to live in shallow coastal waters, they are rarely sighted at the surface. They are more active at night, which can contribute to the limited sightings.

Sandbar sharks can grow to be as long as 8 feet (2.4 m), but tend to be under 6 feet (1.8 m). These sharks are gray to light tan and can be difficult to distinguish from other requiem sharks because they do not possess any distinct markings.

Sandbar sharks migrate based on the temperature of the ocean. Maui may see an increase in sandbar shark populations during colder months as sandbar sharks that reside in northern regions migrate to warmer waters.

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

By Kris Mikael Krister – Imported from 500px (archived version) by the Archive Team. (detail page), CC BY 3.0

Scalloped hammerhead sharks are commonly found along the coastlines of Pacific islands and frequent Maui waters.

However, scalloped hammerheads may not be as common in Maui waters anymore because they have been listed as a critically endangered species as of 2018, according to the IUCN Red List.

Encountering a scalloped hammerhead is not a common occurrence because they tend to avoid people, so much so that scientists have a difficult time studying them.

Scalloped hammerhead sharks are fairly large, reaching lengths up to 11 feet (3.4 m) and can weigh as much as 335 pounds (152 kg). Their preferred habitat is near insular shelves, which attracts them to the Maui coast.

Galapagos Shark

By Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR – Public Domain

Despite its name, the Galapagos shark is heavily distributed throughout the world, including Hawaiian waters.

Galapagos sharks are inshore shark species that can be found around oceanic islands.

The preferred habitat of Galapagos sharks is in open waters, but they are attracted to the continental and insular shelves off the Maui coast.

Galapagos sharks are medium-sized sharks, but can reach lengths up to 12 feet (3.6 m). The largest Galapagos shark recorded in Hawaiian waters was approximately 9.8 feet (3 m).

Galapagos sharks are very curious and have been known to approach divers.

They are considered to be aggressive when threatened. However, there are no reported shark attack incidents involving this shark in Maui.

Tiger Shark

Albert kok, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tiger sharks are the most common shark species to frequent Maui waters.

These sharks like to live in coastal waters, but can be found in the open ocean when traveling between islands.

Tiger sharks are a predatory species that will eat just about anything that is available to them. Due to their aggressive behavior, tiger sharks are responsible for most of the shark attack incidents in Maui.

Along with being the most aggressive, tiger sharks are also one of the largest sharks that inhabit Maui waters. They can reach lengths up to 18 feet (5.5 m) or more and weigh as much as 1500 pounds (680 kg).

Tiger sharks are easily identifiable by their distinct color markings of vertical stripes or spots. They tend to be masters of disguise as their light brown to gray bodies blend in with murky waters.

Maui attracts tiger sharks because of the plethora of food sources that are available in the coral reefs off the coast of the island.

These sharks are known to feed on green turtles and Hawaiian monk seals that reside on Maui nesting beaches, along with a wide variety of marine life that live in the area.

Shark Attack History & Statistics at Maui, Hawaii

Shark attacks are more common on Maui than any other Hawaiian island.

Since the Hawaii Department of Land and Resources began recording shark attacks in 1995, there have been 52 shark attacks in Maui as of 2022.

Out of all shark attacks in Maui to date, only six attacks were fatal and one was considered provoked due to activity.

Tiger and requiem sharks are responsible for most of the shark attacks in Maui. Tiger sharks were responsible for 24 attacks and requiem sharks were responsible for eight.

In November 2019, South Maui beaches were shut down after a group of approximately three to five tiger sharks were spotted offshore. The tiger sharks were observed to be about 15 feet (4.6 m) long.

One of the most recent shark attack incidents that took place in Maui was in February 2022. A father was kayaking with his son about one mile off shore when an unidentified shark rushed towards them and bit into the side of one of the kayaks. Both individuals were able to escape to shore without any injuries.

The last fatal shark attack that occurred in Maui waters took place in Honolua Bay, approximately 20 yards from shore, in December 2020. A tiger shark caused traumatic life-threatening injuries to a surfer that resulted in death. The shark was believed to be about 14 feet (4.3 m) in length.

Researchers at the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology conducted a study to track tiger shark activity. The study concluded that Maui has the highest tiger shark population in the entire state.

Researchers also found that Makena Point and South Maui areas are the most common places tiger sharks frequent.

Sharks in Maui waters are generally year-round residents. Some shark species are more active at night, while others are more active during the day.

Although shark attacks are not a common occurrence, shark attacks occur most between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Wrapping Up

Sharks are attracted to Maui waters due to the abundance of coral reefs surrounding the island that supply sharks with an abundance of food.

The tiger shark is the most common and aggressive species that inhabits Maui waters. Only a handful of shark attacks reported were from requiem sharks.

Considering the average number of shark attacks every year compared to the number of annual visitors in Maui, shark attacks are not common and fatal incidents are especially rare.

Swimming in clear waters and in groups can help you stay at ease.

An important thing to keep in mind is that we are entering marine life habitats whenever we enter the ocean and may occasionally encounter sea creatures.

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Hope this helps!

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