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Will Killing Sharks Finally Stop Hawai‘i’s Epidemic of Attacks?

Shark attacks spiked 56 percent over the past four years. Folks on O‘ahu and the Neighbor Islands are nervously asking why. HONOLULU dives deep to find out what’s going on, and what’s different, this time around.


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Photo: Juan Oliphant


Click on the image to enlarge. 
Source:  florida museum of natural history

Good surf came early to the North Shore in September 2015. A nice run of waves kept Colin Cook busy glassing new boards for top shapers who supply some of the world’s best surfers. But he loved carving waves himself. When he stepped out of his North Shore house the morning of Oct. 9, the 25-year-old was feeling, he recalls, “a little lazy.”


And there was Leftovers, the surf break across the street, throwing off some fun waves. He grabbed his 5-foot-6-inch board and paddled out at 7:30 a.m. to join 10 to 15 other surfers. An hour passed, two. In the calming sea he saw turtles, as always. A scatter of small fish broke the surface. As the crowd thinned, there was just Cook, a guy off to one side and, about 200 yards out, a stand-up paddler. Time to go in, get to work.


A tremendous shock, like getting hit by a truck. “Out of nowhere, boom!” Somebody was jumping on him, riding him deep. He felt nothing except a curious numbness. His eyes had shut tight. Now he opened them, underwater. “I saw the shark. Right there on me. I could see the stripes. Tiger. He literally had my leg in his mouth.”


Cook had seen sharks before. He’d seen that movie. In fact, he says, “It was kind of like watching a movie: Here I am, underwater, thinking, ‘This can’t be happening to me. Is this for real?’” The tiger began swinging Cook from side to side, “that ragdoll thing, throwing me around underwater. Fight or flight kicked in. I just starting punching it with my right hand and tried to push off with my left.”


SEE ALSO: 9 Tips on Avoiding Shark Attacks 


Blood filled the water. His hands were being shredded as if he’d thrust them into the spinning blades of a blender. “I was able to get free, I swam up to my board.” So small it rides underwater when he paddles, the board promised a long slow slog the 150 yards to shore. He dug his bleeding hands into the water.


Colin Cook was attacked by a tiger at Leftovers.
Photos: elyse butler mallams


Colin Cook. 

But the board wouldn’t move. Then the surf leash gave a jerk, tightened, and swung the board around, dragging it and Cook out to sea. “He was towing me.” The shark had the ankle with his surf leash attached to it, Cook realized. And the only way that could be happening … was if the leg was no longer attached to his body. Like Ahab, the native Rhode Islander was being taken on what whalers call a Nantucket Sleigh Ride. 


Cook felt himself move in and out of consciousness. Then the leash slackened. Good. He saw the stand-up paddler draw close and begin striking the water near Cook with his paddle. 


The tiger had returned. “This isn’t supposed to happen,” Cook remembers thinking, as it circled and lunged. “It was not like most shark attacks: The shark bites and leaves. You hear them say, ‘Sharks don’t like the taste of humans.’ But this shark was sticking around.


“It wanted a meal.”

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Honolulu Magazine September 2020
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