Teenager loses foot in Kaua'i shark attack
By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau
PO'IPU, KAUA'I — A large shark at Brennecke Beach dragged a bodyboarder underwater twice yesterday before letting go when the boy jabbed it in the eye.
Hokuanu Aki, a 17-year-old from Koloa, lost his left foot in the attack. He had surgery at Wilcox Hospital in Lihu'e, where he was in serious condition late yesterday.
"He said he was being thrashed around underwater. He fought back and was able to grab the eye, and the shark released him," said Fire Capt. Mike Layosa.
It was precisely the right thing to do, said National Marine Fisheries Service biologist John Naughton.
"They generally release where the guy hits or fights, especially around the sensitive areas of the gills or the eye," Naughton said.
The boy's father, Harmon Aki, said last night that the operation went well and his son is in good spirits.
"He's a strong boy," Harmon Aki said. "We're thankful — it could have been even worse. We still have him here with us, and that's good. No doubt it's going to be a long journey."
Aki thanked the many friends and family members who expressed their willingness to help.
This is the second shark attack of the year in Hawai'i. On Jan. 1, a snorkeler was bitten on the buttocks off Olowalu on Maui. Last year, there were three minor shark-human encounters, one on Maui and two on O'ahu.
A witness told firefighters that he saw Hokuanu Aki enter the water shortly before noon, and the shark attacked about five minutes later. The water had been muddy with runoff from heavy rains. The witness, the husband of a registered nurse who later helped stop the boy's bleeding, said he saw a fin about 12 inches long.
The man told firefighters that Aki was pulled under, came up yelling and was pulled under again. The second time he surfaced, he swam to shore, kicking with the fin on his remaining foot.
The visiting nurse wrapped a towel around Aki's leg and applied pressure to stop the bleeding, Layosa said. Firefighters arrived minutes later and applied a tourniquet until paramedics took over.
• Major shark attacks in Hawai'i include:
Oct. 1, 1999: Jesse Spencer, 16, of Keauhou, attacked by a shark while surfing off Old Kona Airport Park, suffers severe cuts to his right arm.
March 1999: Mark Monazzami of California says his wife, Naghid Davoodabadi, was killed by a shark while kayaking off Maui. Her body was never found.
Oct. 28, 1997: Shark bites off the lower part of 18-year-old Michael Coots' right leg while he was bodyboarding in muddy water at Waiokapua Bay off West Kaua'i.
Nov. 5, 1992: Aaron Romento, 18, of Pearl City, killed by shark while bodyboarding at Ke'eau Beach Park, Leeward O'ahu.
Feb. 19, 1992: Bryan Adona feared killed by shark after failing to return from Leftovers on O'ahu's North Shore; bodyboard with shark bite washes ashore at Waimea Bay.
Nov. 26, 1991: Martha Joy Morrell, 41, of Olowalu, killed by a large tiger shark while snorkeling less than a mile from Camp Pecusa, Maui.
"It looked like he got hit just below the knee" and that the shark stripped much of the flesh from the lower left leg before removing the foot, Layosa said.
Firefighters and lifeguards kept swimmers out of the water along the shore about a mile on either side of Brennecke Beach, which forms the eastern end of Po'ipu Beach Park. The coastline will remain closed until water conditions improve.
The attack prompted more warnings about the danger of swimming in dirty coastal waters during and after periods of heavy rainfall. State aquatic biologist Don Heacock said the Waikomo Stream is not far away, flowing dirty water into the ocean. Southerly winds have kept the murky water close to shore. Naughton said sharks have a feeding advantage in muddy water because their nonvisual senses are so acute.
They may be more likely to come near shore when the water is dirty in hopes of finding one of their favorite food sources, green sea turtles. Naughton said he recently visited the Po'ipu area and saw many turtles in the nearshore waters. But sharks often bite other things as well. The stomach contents of tiger sharks fished off south Kaua'i during the late 1960s and early 1970s surprised researchers with the number of land mammals they found, Naughton said.
"We got some amazing things out of the stomachs of those sharks. We found a horse's head in one of them," he said. "That's one of the reasons we're telling surfers and others to stay away from stream mouths when they're in flood."
Yesterday's attack at Brennecke Beach was similar to an attack on another bodyboarder on Kaua'i a little more than four years ago. Michael Coots was bodyboarding in murky water Oct. 28, 1997, at Waiokapua Bay, also known as Major's, when a shark attacked him. Surfers said the water was a dirty brown-green, as it can be when water is flowing into the ocean from drainage ditches.
The shark grabbed Coots' right leg. He stuck his hand into the shark's mouth to get it to release him. When it did not, he began punching it in the head until it did.
Like the attack on Aki, Coots, then 18, made his own way to shore. In his case, the shark removed his leg at mid-calf. Coots has since returned to bodyboarding.
Layosa said neither Aki nor witnesses saw enough of the shark to identify it, but Naughton described attacks like this as "classic tiger shark attacks." Often, he said, a tiger shark will attack a human in murky water, do a great deal of shaking and leave.
If a turtle were attacked, the shark would return for more. Heacock said that with the available information, there is no way of knowing for certain what kind of shark it was, but he agreed that a tiger is a likely suspect.
"These animals are the wolves of the sea, and they'll put themselves in a position that's to their advantage," Heacock said. "In muddy water, they have a great advantage, because they can detect smells and motion. But they'll attack in crystal-clear water, too."
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