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Tiger shark caught at Hanalei

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Posted: Friday, November 14, 2003 12:00 am

A massive, 13-foot, 6-inch tiger shark that may, or may not, be the animal that attacked North Shore surfer Bethany Hamilton was hauled in Thursday at Hanalei.

Bill Hamilton and Ralph Young, veteran Hanalei surfers and fishermen, began their hunt for the shark on Tuesday night following about a 10-day period of ongoing reports of a large tiger shark cruising surf spots in and around Hanalei Bay.

A distinguishing feature of the shark remarked about in the reports was a ragged dorsal fin.

They used a four-foot gray nurse shark as bait, tying it up on an oversized hook on a line attached to three buoys anchored about 50 feet south of the "Bowl" surf break at Hanalei Bay, about a quarter-mile outside the Hanalei Pier.

Hamilton said their motive was to protect surfers, fishermen and beachgoers on the North Shore.

"We don't hunt sharks except for large predators that enter surf breaks and harass people. We have the resources to do it, and the experience," Hamilton said. "I've been here the last 35 years, and have only fished for three sharks: one in 1978, the second about eight years ago. That shark took the entire mooring system."

"After she (Hamilton) got bit, fisherman went out and told Ralph ‘we've got a big, dangerous animal (in North Shore waters),'" he said. "We heard continuous stories — surfers chased out of Waikoko, Hideaways, the Bowl. There's too many young kids, too many people in the water, I don't think we can accept a second tragedy."

Having a large tiger shark in Hanalei Bay may or may not have been related to the attack on 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton of Princeville, which occurred miles to the west off Makua Beach at Ha‘ena.

However, Hamilton, who is not related to Bethany Hamilton, did confer with the girl's father prior to catching the shark.

"I saw Tom Hamilton (Bethany's father) and he said he's against any kind of fishing that's going to kill the population of sharks at Hanalei, but he said ‘it would make my year' if we could take the shark that attacked Bethany."

On Tuesday night Young and Hamilton set the bait using a rig they put together with the help of Hanalei firefighter Bruce Chapin. On Wednesday morning they found nothing had taken the bait, the same on Wednesday night. On Thursday morning they saw they had something on the hook, "a big tiger that had swam and drowned," Hamilton said of their catch, which had a ragged dorsal fin.

Hamilton said their system of buoys they rigged was buoyant enough to hold the dead 1500-1800 pound tiger shark. "We had three separate buoys, a large one, a secondary one and a small one, with an inner tube tied in between."

They towed the shark well outside of Hanalei Bay to dissect it and to find out what was in its stomach, which was found empty except for the shark they'd used for bait.

"(The bait shark) was severed cleanly in two sections," he said.

They also cut out a large section of its belly to provide shark skin they are giving to Boy Akana of Kalihiwai to use as the skin on a Hawaiian drum, he said.

They then brought the shark to the beach at the mouth of the Hanalei River and measured it. Retired Kaua‘i Fire Department chief David Sproat brought his back hoe to the beach to lift the shark so they could cut it's jaw out. The wide-bellied tiger shark had a 14-inch high dorsal fin that was 18 inches wide at the base; the bottom "smile" of the shark's mouth was 18 inches across from the tips of its mouth; and its teeth were about one and one-half inches apart. It's girth - the height of one side of its body - was about 23 inches.

Hamilton said he and Young "really want to fit the shark's jaws to the board" to see if it might be the one that struck Bethany Hamilton taking her left arm and leaving a gaping bit mark in the left rail of the surfboard.

"My theory is that the resident sharks who live here take food and predate normally as they always do, they don't come into where surfers are and pursue game," Hamilton said. "When we have a predator that is pursuing a food source on a daily basis, early in the morning or in the evening, it may or may not be part of the whole scheme. I think they're visiting sharks, or they're sick sharks, or there's something in their mechanism that makes them do this stuff that's outside the norm."

Emphasizing that he and Young weren't shark hunters on a regular basis, Hamilton said, "the real shark fishing is based on chumming for sharks; we set out only one line."

He said studies of tiger sharks shows that the larger sharks feed primarily on other sharks. He said a large tiger can roam about 150 miles each day, and that a tiger shark's diet isn't selective: "Turtles here at Hanalei, birds further north, cans, roofing paper, they'll take whatever they can get."

"I have a bit of remorse about taking such a beautiful creature," Young said, "but too few people are taking the sharks and keeping everything in balance, with more surfers and more sharks they will be more attacks. I would have felt bad if someone had been bit and nobody had done anything; I feel bad about taking the shark, but not as bad as I'd feel if someone had been bit."

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