Sunday, January 31, 2010

Please Support Hawaii's Shark Eco-Tourism!

Hawaiian shark eco-tours are under attack once again. Shark eco-tourism promotes appreciation and understanding of these magnificent and vital animals. Please help to support Hawaii's shark eco-tour operators!

Here's a summary of what's going on:

And lots more background information and facts:

And here's how you can help:

Send a written statement of support to these two offices:
(This has to happen as soon as possible, because hearings are being scheduled every day. You can use what you had written before for the City council or letters to the editor. Keep it short and sweet and tell them that you are strongly opposed to/appalled/disturbed/ shocked by :) any bills that will kill small businesses.)

-House Committee on Water, Land, Ocean Resources - Representative Ken Ito (Fax: 586-8474 email:
Reference House bill: HB2459, HB2664, HB2705, HB2483, HB2900

-Senate Committee on Land and Water - Senator Clayton Hee (Fax: 586-7334 email:
Reference Senate Bill: SB2330, SB2655

(save your letters so you can send them again for the next batch of committee hearings).

And if you live in Hawaii or are able to travel there, please get in touch with Stefanie Brendl about participating in the hearings.

Sample letter below. Please feel free to copy parts or the whole letter as you see fit. There is also a wealth of information available on the Why Sharks Matter website, including support letters written by other people.

Thank you for your help!

Dear Sen. Hee,

I am writing in support of two North Shore shark eco-tour businesses, North Shore Shark Adventures and Hawaii Shark Encounters. These responsible businesses, that draw tens of thousands of tourists every year, are being unfairly targeted by a series of five bills (SB2330, HB2664, HB2459, HB2705, HB2483) that have been submitted to this year's State Legislative session. It is appalling and unconscionable that public officials -- who are supported by Hawaiians' tax dollars -- would take up the State Legislature's time and resources with this series of bills that have no other purpose than to destroy two hard working and law abiding small businesses.

The proponents of these bills have been conducting a campaign of misinformation and misguided emotion with no regard to the facts or any common sense. A calm review of the facts and issues, however, presents a much different picture.

Following are some observations on the issues involved that I respectfully present to you:

1. Public Safety: There has been no evidence to indicate that these shark eco-tours pose a hazard to public safety, nor is there any indication that the tours cause a significant change in the sharks' behavior. Please see the following University of Hawaii study, which concluded that shark tours have a "negligible impact on public safety" (

Other activities in Hawaii's waters are much more likely to attract sharks close to shore and the surfers, canoers and swimmers. For example, the Waikiki Midnight shark hunt operates near the most populated areas of Waikiki and Hawaii Kai. Spear fishing goes on right in the surf zone where bleeding and struggling fish attract sharks.

It doesn't make a lot of sense that activities that attract sharks close to shore are apparently not considered to be a threat, while shark viewing tours that operate three miles offshore are being criticized as a hazard to public safety. Yes, these tours operate three miles offshore in 600 foot deep water, far from where any surfing, swimming or canoeing takes place. Participants view the sharks from Poly Glass cages that allow them to view the sharks with no risk of physical contact.

This anti-shark tour movement seems to be fueled by a fear of sharks and shark attacks that is way out of proportion to the actual risk. For example, according to the International Shark Attack File there have been five shark attack fatalities in Oahu since 1828, and the last one occurred in 1992. The shark eco-tours that are being targeted have only been in existence since 2001. Proponents of the bills in question, however, are using the fear factor to manipulate the public and attract attention to promote themselves and their personal agendas.

2. Hawaiian Culture - Aumakua: Please see the following Public Service Announcement that is currently being aired on Fijian television -- . Sharks are also very important to Fijians and other Polynesian cultures. Yet the Fijians do not consider shark viewing tours to be offensive or disrespectful. What does offend Fijians is the unsustainable killing of sharks that is going on throughout the world.

The Waikiki Midnight shark hunt attracts sharks with bait so that paying customers can catch and release the sharks. Is this activity not using the sharks for entertainment and profit? Yet shark fishing tours are not being targeted by these bills; only the shark viewing tours.

Shark fin soup is sold in Hawaiian restaurants and container loads filled with shark fins can be seen in Honolulu Harbour. If the welfare of the sharks is the concern here, it seems that the shark fin traders in Hawaii's ports and markets and the longliners in Hawaii's waters would be more appropriate targets.

Since sharks are such an integral part of Hawaii's culture why not promote shark conservation, education, respect and understanding? What the shark viewing eco-tours are doing is educating and enlightening, promoting understanding and respect, not fear. How is this bad?

3. Sharks are vital to the health of the marine ecosystem. Hawaii's tourism industry depends heavily on its marine resources. Without sharks to keep the oceans in balance, the ecosystem begins to fall apart, and everyone suffers. Sharks should be protected, not vilified.

4. Impact on tourism and small businesses: A decision to ban shark tours would shut out 40,000 tourists from the North Shore. These tour operators are generating tourism dollars for the local economy. They are hard working small business owners who pay taxes. The tourists who go on these tours also stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and go shopping. Especially during these challenging economic times, is it wise to take actions that will drive out small businesses and tourists? Stirring up fear of shark attacks doesn't seem to be a good idea for tourism either. This fiasco has generated a huge amount of press, not just locally, but internationally as well. And it does not show Hawaii in a favorable light.

It's understandable that Hawaiians would want to see some kind of regulation or oversight of shark tour operations. Irresponsible tour operators certainly could endanger their clients, generate negative press and even possibly endanger others. This statement applies not only to shark tour operators, however, but to many recreational activities.

But why attack responsible tour operators who are operating three miles offshore in deep waters far away from any surfing, canoeing or swimming?

Please consider all the issues and the potential consequences of any proposed actions. And please don't allow Hawaii's Legislature to be hijacked by this witch hunt mentality that aims to destroy small businesses and recklessly divert the State's attention and resources from much more important matters.

Thank you very much for your time and attention!



  1. Mary,

    Thank you for promoting awareness of these bills. Please also spread the word for support of SB2169, which essentially is an amendment to an existing law prohibiting the harvesting of shark fins from the territorial waters of the state. The amendment, if passed, will make it unlawful "for any person to sell, offer for sale, trade, or distribute shark fins, as defined in section 188-40.5". Aloha and mahalo !!

  2. Stop illegal shark feeding for commercial activities in Hawaii. That is all the community is asking for. Follow the law.

  3. To anonymous: Thanks for your comment. We do understand and respect your position, but these bills also target businesses that are not breaking any laws. If a law is being broken, then it should be enforced.

    Also please see this link for lots of information on this issue -- .


    To David: Thanks and sorry for taking so long to post a reply. We're waiting for news about the outcome of yesterday's review of SB2169 (with amendments) by the Judiciary Committee, and will get an update posted. This is really exciting! Hopefully this bill will make it!


  4. So you want to be allowed to still run your tours and profit from them?. While the Native Hawaiians have their culture ignored.. Sorry but I strongly disagree.. Sharks are sacred animals to these people.. Have some respect, especially when living in their native land.

  5. Seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about the cultural issue. Which is really sad, because honestly no disrespect is intended. And to clarify, we wrote a blog in support of the tour operators; we aren't the operators.

    I do know one of the tour operators, though, and she has many supporters in the Native Hawaiian community. So all Native Hawaiians don't necessarily agree on this issue.

    And what is really confusing is that there has been no uproar about businesses such as the Waikiki Midnight Shark Hunt - . These people are using sharks as entertainment and profiting. As are the Hawaiian aquariums that keep captive sharks. The aquariums can educate and teach respect for these animals, but the shark tours do as well.