More shark sightings: Tourist's death spurs discussion
Inside the reef: Beachgoers walk along a beach in Tumon Bay in this file photo. Residents and tourists are being advised of an increase in the shark population around Guam. The increase is being attributed to a number of factors including bigger food supply.
Shark attacks are incredibly rare, 1 in 11.5 million according to the Ichthyology Department of the Florida Museum of Natural History. But in the event you do encounter a shark while in the water, here are some tips courtesy of Florida Museum of Natural History's International Shark Attack
Always stay in groups since sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual.
Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.
Do not enter the water if bleeding from an open wound or if menstruating -- a shark's olfactory ability is acute.
Wearing shiny jewelry is discouraged because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
Avoid waters with known effluents or sewage and those being used by sport or commercial fisherman, especially if there are signs of bait fishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such action.
Sightings of porpoises do not indicate the absence of sharks -- both often eat the same food items.
Use extra caution when waters are murky and avoid uneven tanning and bright colored clothing -- sharks see contrast particularly well.
Refrain from excess splashing and do not allow pets in the water because of their erratic movements.
Leave the water quickly and calmly if a shark is sighted. Do not provoke, harass, or entice a shark, even a small one.
If fish or turtles start to behave erratically, leave the water. They may be behaving like that because there is a shark in the area.
If you feel something brush up against you, get out of the water to make sure that you have not been bitten. There have been reports that shark-bite victims often do not feel any pain.
Swim, surf, or dive with other people. Sharks most often attack individuals.
If you are diving and are approached by a shark, stay as still as possible. If you are carrying fish or other catches, release the catch and quietly leave the area.WHAT TO DO IF YOU'RE ATTACKED
If attack is imminent, defend yourself with whatever weapons you can, advises the ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research. "Avoid using your [bare] hands or feet if you can avoid it; if not, concentrate your blows against the shark's delicate eyes or gills." A shark's snout is also said to be sensitive.
If a shark actually gets you in its mouth, says ISAF's George Burgess, "I advise to be as aggressively defensive as you are able. 'Playing dead' does not work. Pound the shark in any way possible. Try to claw at the eyes and gill openings, two very sensitive areas."
If bitten, try to stop the bleeding. Leave the water as efficiently, calmly, and swiftly as possible. While many sharks will not bite again, you cannot rule out a second attack.
Get immediate medical attention, no matter how small the injury.
Guam's agriculture department believes either a gray reef shark or a tiger shark was responsible for the recent attack on a Korean tourist, who likely was in open water beyond the reef at the time.
The preliminary conclusion is based on the man's autopsy report.
The official cause of death for Nao Dok Kim is drowning, but only after a shark bit him deeply on his left shoulder, according to the medical examiner.
A guest at the Pacific Islands Club, Kim went missing April 13, prompting the hotel to distribute flyers with his picture.
His remains were found the following day, floating in the water off Asan, missing both legs and his right arm. His remains were cremated.
Guam Fire Department Capt. Solomon Monteverde, GFD's search-and-rescue operations commander, said he's seen a dramatic increase in the shark population just outside the island's reefs in recent years.
"I'm not a biologist and we don't have numbers or have done any counts, but I can tell you we've been encountering more sharks, including tigers. Every time we get in there for a search and rescue or for training, we run into a shark," said Monteverde, who has been part of search and rescue for almost three decades.
"We jump in there without protection, and often there are times when we have to go in the conditions are poor, the water is murky and you don't know what's down there with you. It's gotten to the point where we're requesting the chief to allow us to bring artillery down so that we can protect ourselves, should the need arise."
Photos of Kim's remains will likely be sent to the Ichthyology Department of the Florida Museum of Natural History, said Brent Tibbatts, a fisheries biologist with the Department of Agriculture's Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources. Tibbatts is waiting to see detailed photos of the bite marks, taken by the Guam Police Department's forensics team.
He was hoping to see the photos Friday, but from the autopsy report agriculture biologists believe it was one of the two large species of sharks, Tibbatts said.
Tibbatts said fishermen and authorities he spoke with about Kim's case don't believe that the attack was unprovoked. He said they told him that something must have attracted the shark to Kim.
There are no recent studies about the island's shark population, but several fishermen and marine rescue agency officials shared anecdotal evidence that the shark population, to include tiger sharks, outside the island's reefs has increased in recent years.
Odds of a shark attack, especially here, are very rare. In the last 80 years there have been a handful of reported shark attacks in Guam's waters and no fatalities.
Overall, your chances of being attacked by a shark are 1 in 11.5 million, according to studies from the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Tibbatts said he has not heard of an increase in the number of tiger sharks around Guam. He said tagging studies in Hawaii have shown that tiger sharks are not fixed to a specific site, but can range over areas of hundreds of miles.
"Generally, tiger sharks would tend to congregate in an area where a steady food source is available, and I am not aware of a steady source of food that would attract tigers," he said.
"Generally, this would be marine mammals -- live or dead -- or sea turtles, a slaughter house or fish processing plant in which large amounts of organic matter are released into the environment, or another source of food."More fish
But an abundance of food is exactly why there are more sharks, tigers included, outside of Guam's protective reefs, said Guam Fishermen's Co-Op President Manny Duenas.
Duenas said the marine preserves established more than a decade ago at several of the island's bays have worked, as the fish population has greatly increased.
Five marine preserves were created in 1997 to prevent overfishing and allow fishermen to continue to fish in most of Guam's waters. Full enforcement began in 2001 and the Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources has reported that fish numbers in the Achang Reef Flat and Piti Bomb Holes preserves have increased by more than 100 percent since 2001. The agency also notes the variety of fish species in the preserves has increased.
As a result, Duenas said, he and several fishermen are seeing many more sharks around the island than they have in years.
"Oceanic sharks are starting to live here and they are there because the fish are healthy," Duenas said.
"Turtles is their No. 1 meals," he continued. "There are more here now, and we've been encountering them frequently."Shark sightings
Monteverde, the fire department rescue diver, described two recent recovery operations where one of his crewmembers encountered a tiger shark swimming around the victim's body. In one instance, when divers attempted to recover the body of a fisherman off the Achang Reef Flat, a shark was feeding on the body, he said.
Search-and-rescue officials have been asking the Coast Guard to use helicopters to look for sharks before divers jump in.
Paul Villanueva, a retired police officer, goes spearfishing at least three times a week. A certified spearfisher since 1981, the 51-year-old Mangilao resident said he has seen what he believes to be an increase in the shark population in recent years.
"There are areas now where you can't even dive anymore because of the sharks, although yes, my encounters with larger sharks like tigers are usually when I'm trolling," he said.
"With the fish having come back, naturally there are more sharks and because there is no one catching sharks anymore, I think there's no more checks and balance for them."
Sgt. John Aguon, of the Guam Police Department's Marine Patrol, said when his team recovered the body of drowned diver Andrew Duenas in 2010 in the open-ocean waters off of Inarajan, they encountered 10-foot and 12-foot tiger sharks feeding on the body.
Despite all the sightings, there have been no reports of a shark attack on rescue swimmers.
Stay within reef
Aguon said sharks typically won't bother humans unless they mistake them for their customary prey. Even so, the safest course is for swimmers or divers to avoid heading out past the reefs, he said.
"The sharks aren't even the biggest dangers there, in almost all cases it's drownings due to the currents and riptides," Aguon said.
"My best advice is to stay within the designated swimming areas and wear a personal flotation device and you won't have anything to worry about. But I can definitely say that in the last five years we have seen an increase in the large shark population like bull sharks, gray sharks and tigers we're seeing -- but that is mostly in particular areas."
Aguon said his teams have encountered large sharks off certain deep pockets past the reef on the Guam Memorial Hospital cliffline, past the reefs in front of Gun Beach, off the open ocean side of Cocos Island, past the reef and into the open waters off Pauliluc Bay in Inarajan and Pati point off Andersen Air Force Base.
Lee Webber, who has been diving in Guam's waters since the 1970s, said he rarely encounters sharks.
Webber, president of Micronesian Divers Association and an emeritus scuba diving instructor trainer, said his staff takes customers down three times daily and rarely sees any sharks.
"We're starting to see a few more little reef sharks but no large sharks and we dive multiple times a day," he said. "It's very rare to see one and if you do it's typically at night and in most cases the shark won't bother you because it's not interested in you."
When told what rescue divers and spearfishermen have said about sharks past the reefs, Webber did not discount their observations. He said many of the places where the fishermen and rescue divers have encountered sharks are not places people dive.
"The other thing is that if you are fishing you are going to catch a fish, it will be in distress and it will make sounds in the water and it will attract a predator," he said.
"Or if you are spearfishing there will be blood in the water when you spear the fish, so yeah, if you're fishing the likelihood of seeing a shark is probably greater."
Aguon, Villaneuva, Monteverde, Manny Duenas and Webber all said that if you see a shark while in the water the best course of action is to not panic and to leave it alone.
Aguon and Monteverde said to try and keep it in your line of sight and calmly swim away. In almost every instance the shark won't bother you.
If you are diving and are approached by a shark, stay as still as possible. If you are carrying fish or other catches, release the catch and quietly leave the area. If an attack is imminent, defend yourself with whatever weapons you have; avoid using your bare hands or feet if you can; if not, concentrate your blows against the shark's delicate eyes or gills. Aguon notes that a shark's snout is also said to be sensitive.
In most cases, a shark won't bother you, but the safest bet is to stay within the safety of Guam's reefs.
"In all the time I've dived I've had confrontations with sharks maybe three times and it was always my fault because of something stupid I did to agitate the shark," said Webber, who's been diving for four decades all over the region.
"There are a lot more dangers when you go over Guam's reefs than sharks," said Webber. "You've got currents and riptides that are far more dangerous. So, are there sharks in the water? Yes. Will they bother you? Probably not."http://www.guampdn.com