Digital Dorsal

New website allows users to track tiger sharks off the coast of Maui

Scientists tagging a shark in the waters of the coast of Maui.

Scientists tagging a shark in the waters of the coast of Maui. Photo: PacIOOS

Seven tiger sharks that frequent the waters off Maui have been tagged with sensors by the Pacific Island Ocean Observing System (PIOOS) in an effort to better understand what’s caused the recent spike in tiger shark attacks off the coast of the Valley Isle. Through a newly launched website, anyone can follow the movements of the seven tiger sharks, which range in size from 9.3 to 14.2 feet. In 2012, 10 shark attacks were reported in Hawaii, more than double the average seen in a typical year. Within the past week, there have been two shark attack on Maui, one of them proving fatal. In total, there have been six attacks on Maui this year alone.

The concept of tracking sharks online is not new. The Eastern Seaboard, along with other areas, have similar online tracking sites already in place.

The sensors, which are attached to the shark's dorsal fin, transmit data each time the shark breaks the ocean's surface. While the seven sharks that have been tagged aren't a substantial enough number to create a sound scientific observation, the PIOOS is planning to equip more sharks with sensors and expand the program.

According to a report from the Huffington Post, the information gathered from this study will help "determine whether sharks around Maui are more resident than they are around the other Hawaiian Islands and whether they exhibit greater use of inshore habitats than in other locations."

Scientific research aside, while tracking the movements of a 14-foot tiger may sound like a great way to kill a few minutes at work, some Maui natives like Albee Layer haven’t decided whether it’s an effective resource. "I have mixed feeling about the launch of this new site,” said Layer. “I'm really stoked and appreciate that we're learning more about these sharks because they're so important to our ecosystem, but at the same time I’m a little afraid it might create a lot of unnecessary fear in some people. The sharks are always there, but most people are unaware of them."