Victim ’kind of shocked’ by shark bite
By EDWIN TANJI, City Editor
LAHAINA – A 15-year-old who poked at a small reef shark said he was “kind of shocked” when the shark turned and bit his left knee Wednesday afternoon.
Andres Balmacda said he was feeling good after paramedics responding to the call for assistance gave him a shot of painkiller for the laceration and bites on his knee that covered an area about the size of a palm.
With calm ocean conditions and no significant homework on Wednesday, Balmacda and a Lahainaluna classmate had gone out on a quick dive trip with Dennis Blevins, a Lahaina man who said he regularly takes a group of teens out fishing and diving.
On Wednesday, Blevins said he took the teens to a reef off the northeast coast of Lanai near the Club Lanai facilities to spearfish. The ocean where he anchored in about 10 to 15 feet of water was clear, but a small swell had turned other reef areas murky, and the diving conditions were less than ideal, he said.
They had taken off from the Mala Wharf launching ramp after school and were in the water for less than an hour. Blevins said he had returned to his boat, Puff Daddy, a 24-foot Century, while Balmacda and a classmate, Carl Miller, 16, continued searching the water around the boat.
Miller said the dive trip had been intended to bring back fish for eating, but they hadn’t been able to hit anything when they saw the gray reef shark. Common in the offshore reefs around Hawaii, the reef shark is relatively small at 5 to 8 feet and is not known to be aggressive.
But when a reef shark feels threatened, it displays an arched back with its pectoral fins down and swims with exaggerated movements.
Miller said the shark appeared to be “swimming funny” but the two young divers continued to observe it.
“He kind of like poked at the shark, and it just turned and bit him,” Miller said.
Both teens were carrying three-pronged spears, but were not intending to spear the shark.
Balmacda said Miller had poked at the shark first.
“We were just swimming around looking at it, then he poked at it and then when I did, it kind of turned and bit me,” Balmacda said.
“I was kind of shocked at first.”
The shark fled after biting Balmacda on the knee, Miller said.
“It just did a 180-degree thing and took off real fast,” he said.
The injury to the knee didn’t appear to be too serious, he said. But Blevins said the laceration exposed the kneecap and Balmacda was being taken to Maui Memorial Medical Center to have the injuries stitched Wednesday evening.
“I know he’s going to be OK. But he’s going to have a story to tell when he goes to school tomorrow,” Blevins said.