By Mark Cosslett; photograph courtesy Nate Volk
I’ve spent a fair bit of time exploring the great outdoors within close proximity of wildlife, and probably far more time in the proximity of sharks then I realize or care to consider. If you will “bear with me” here, I’d like to talk about the precautions I’ve taken in the Canadian Rockies against grizzly bears before I get into what I think can be done about sharks in the Hawaiian ocean channels.
When in Canada, I carry my “bear kit” on longer back country hikes and mountain bike rides, just as much to save a bear as my own ass. While nothing I carry is capable of killing a grizzly bear, it might just save ones life one day (they “destroy” bears that have dangerous encounters with humans). It contains, in order of use:
Bear Bangers - These can be used at a nice, safe distance and when fired off sound like a kick-ass gun shot, which should send just about anything running for the hills.
Bear Spray - Once close enough to use, the bear is already checking you out and your chances aren't as good. It also, doesn't work so well if the bear is upwind of you.
Last Resort - A USMC KA-BAR combat knife. I've had to play dead before, face down and curled up with this unsheathed and clutched in my hands while a grizzly still approached and “investigated” and it's amazing just how small it looks under those circumstances. While I have no illusions of fighting off a grizzly with any kind of knife, a good jab in a sensitive area might just send one running, hopefully allowing us both to survive.
So what does all this have to do about sharks? Let me explain. I've been in the water self-rescuing on Maui for an hour or two many times, but there are far more sharks and far fewer things that might interest them in the open sea. The open ocean channels are the territory of the notorious oceanic, white-tip shark, an opportunistic predator that has killed more humans than all other species of shark combined.
While there is no equivalent to “Bear Bangers” or “Bear Spray” for sharks, I will carry my “Last Resort” deterrent in the form of an ice pick. Sharks, and oceanic white tips in particular, usually do investigative nudges before attacking and a well aimed jab to a shark’s nose or eye might buy me an hour or two until more come, attracted by the blood in the water. If I injure the first shark sufficiently it will not only leave me alone but the other sharks will likely attack it rather than me since their opportunistic nature attracts them to the weakest and therefore easiest target. Sharks aren’t much fun to contemplate but its nearly impossible not to when you’re stranded and exposed in the middle of an open ocean channel... part of the deal. If my kite is still intact, I would crawl into it (it also provides flotation) and hope for the best - 10 to 14 square meters of colorful fabric is a very large and unusual object for a shark to think it will make a meal of an probably the safest place to await rescue.