Are shark attacks souring tourists on Hawaii?

Shark attacks might be rare—you have a greater chance of being struck by lightning—but they nevertheless appear to be having a negative impact on tourism in Hawaii, ABC News reported.

Tourism and spending in Hawaii “may be in danger” after an increase in attacks for the second consecutive year, the news outlet said.

In 2013, Hawaii experienced 14 unprovoked shark attacks, including eight off Maui, and two were fatal. A German tourist was snorkeling when a shark bit off her arm, and a tourist from Washington was kayak fishing when a shark bit his foot that was dangling in the water. Both were off Maui.

A tiger shark; photo from Wikimedia Commons

ABC News reported a decline in tourism and spending entering the fourth quarter and pointed to shark attacks, though the Hawaiian Tourism Authority did not (and probably would not) cite that as a reason for the drop. From ABC News:

October 2013 was the second month that total visitor expenditures (-2.6 percent to $1.1 billion) and visitor arrivals (-1.6 percent to 636,245 visitors) to Hawaii were less than the previous year, according to preliminary statistics released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Hawaii also witnessed slower growth in visitor arrivals since July 2013, the Authority noted in its statement.

Tourists are certainly taking notice.

“My parents’ friends own a boat tour company that has definitely been negatively affected,” Arwen (no last name given) told ABC News. “People are scared of snorkeling right now.”

As a result of the shark attacks, local agencies urge visitors to be aware and take certain precautions.

“As an island state, we are surrounded by the ocean, so it is important that both our visitors and residents take precaution to understand ocean safety,” Mike McCartney, president and chief executive of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, told ABC News. “It is also important that everyone heed all warning signs posted in the areas they visit and suggest that visitors consult lifeguards about water conditions when visiting the beach.”

The unprecedented spike in overall shark attacks since the start of 2012 led Hawaiian officials in August to announce the launch of a two-year study on tiger shark movements around Maui.

“DLNR is paying close attention to the recent series of shark incidents statewide,” William Aila of the Department of Land and Natural Resources said in a released statement about the behavioral study. “These appear to be random events involving sharks of different species and different sizes. There’s nothing we can yet discern that connects the incidents or provides any sort of explanation.”

The risk of being attacked by a shark is very small, according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History, but there are tips to minimize that risk.

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