Jim Rowlinson - ..HANALEI — An estimated 14-foot-long tiger shark chomped the tail end off a local surfer’s board Monday afternoon in Hanalei Bay
Shark bites surfer’s board
Terry Lilley/Contributed photo
Kaua‘i surfer Jim Rowlinson holds his surfboard after a shark took a bite out of it Monday afternoon in Hanalei Bay. He was not injured in the incident. .
..HANALEI — An estimated 14-foot-long tiger shark chomped the tail end off a local surfer’s board Monday afternoon in Hanalei Bay, witnesses said.
North Shore resident Leslie McTaggart, who was a couple car-lengths away from Jim Rowlinson surfing at the point, said the water “boiled” as the shark swam by and took a bite out of his blue longboard around 4 p.m.
McTaggart yelled for help, assuming at the time that the shark had pulled Rowlinson underwater. As it turns out, he apparently dove off his board to undo the leash fastened around his ankle.
“The shark was spitting pieces of the board out right under me,” McTaggart said, noting how she saw its tail thrashing in the water. “The guy could’ve died.”
Based on the teethmarks embedded in the board, marine biologist Terry Lilley of Save Our Seas said the shark was likely 14 feet long. He estimated this based off the base of the tooth measuring 1.25 inches.
McTaggart and Lilley likened the experience to the time several years ago when Bethany Hamilton was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark while surfing at nearby Tunnels. Hamilton lost her arm in the Oct. 31, 2003, incident but returned to competitive surfing within a year. A documentary, “Heart of a Soul Surfer,” is currently being made about her life experience.
Lilley, who routinely observes sharks while scuba diving, was in the bay filming a high-definition underwater movie at the time of the attack. Although he didn’t get a clear shot, he said he suspects the shark was hunting sea turtles, one of its primary food sources.
When a shark is hunting a turtle, the turtle will try to escape by heading toward the nearest reef where it can better utilize its hard shell for protection, Lilley said. The turtles will also employ a barrel-roll maneuver to minimize chances of a shark snatching a flipper.
Lilley said the shark involved in this incident was likely chasing after a turtle when it mistakenly bit the surfboard. He said Rowlinson noted he saw a “yellow flash,” which could have been the underside of a turtle, just before the shark bit his board.
“The problem is we all look like turtles,” McTaggart said of a shark’s view of surfers sitting on their boards in the water.
A humpback whale calf has also been seen in the bay, Lilley said, which has likely lured in more sharks. The whales usually don’t come so close to shore unless they’re sick, he said, which the sharks key into as a “free meal.”
The biologist has been diving in Hanalei Bay for 20 of the past 30 days, taking video of sharks and turtles. He plans to return to the area today.
“Not once have these sharks bothered me,” he said.
McTaggart called the experience “unnerving,” but plans to return to surf there again today. She said she was frustrated because she almost always has her camera with her when she is out riding waves, but didn’t bring it Monday.
Lilley said he is working to erase the negative impression of sharks since the movie “Jaws.”
“For 4,000 years on this island, sharks were friends with people and part of our spiritual ancestry,” he said.
Rowlinson could not be reached for comment by press time.
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