May 25, 2023
By Shelby Busenbark
Scott Haraguchi was fishing 2 miles off of Oahu, Hawaii when his Trident Ultra 4.3 from Ocean Kayak was suddenly charged and bitten by a tiger shark on May 12, 2023. Scott explains, "Heard a 'whooshing' sound, looked up and saw a wide brown thing on the side of the kayak. Thought it was a turtle at first. Happened so fast." Luckily, his GoPro Hero5 Session was rolling and captured the intense event on video.
He continues, "Didn't realize I took my left foot out of the water to brace myself from impact and actually pushed the shark's head off with it. If you asked me to do that again, even without the shark, I don't think I'd have that flexibility. I actually only thought the shark rammed the kayak until I saw the video at home... I was shaken up but didn’t realize how close the shark came to biting my foot or me."
The heart-pounding 42-second clip garnered over 1.3 million views in just a week and a half on YouTube alone—not even counting views from the many reposts on news outlets and social media accounts. See for yourself why so many people were captivated by Scott's experience.
Nicknamed the “garbage can of the sea,” tiger sharks are opportunistic feeders that will eat virtually anything they can fit in their mouths, including fish, mammals, birds, reptiles and even garbage. I’ve heard of them swallowing license plates, tires, cameras, and on one rare occasion, a birth control packet. Tiger sharks, while not common, are occasionally encountered along the Florida Gulf and Atlantic coasts and are known to prey on sea turtles during the summer nesting season. But in Scott's neck of the woods, the feisty species is plentiful, with the largest population of tiger sharks in the world residing just a few islands away in Maui. When on the hunt, the aggression tiger sharks display and the number of attacks on humans is second only to great whites. In Pacific waters, there have been numerous documented attacks on humans by tiger sharks—including a 2003 attack, in Kauai, which amputated the left arm of Hawaiian professional surfer Bethany Hamilton.
But what would instigate the kind of behavior displayed in the video? Sharks don’t normally go out of their way to chew on plastic, although tiger sharks may be the least opposed to such practices. The cause of the documented attack sparked heavy debate in social circles.
My first thought was that Scott uses a Bixpy jet motor on his kayak rig, which could explain the sudden interest from the creature. Sharks attacking motors that send out electrical signals are nothing new and it's been hypothesized that the signals either seriously irritate sharks, potentially triggering their electro-sensory system, or they have learned to associate them with easy meals.
Some theorized the paddle bumping against the side of the kayak may have imitated a struggling baitfish and piqued the predator's interest.
Other viewers speculated it could have been due to the color of the kayak. One YouTube user commented, "I don’t know if it’s everywhere but here in California, because of sharks' habit of biting kayaks the color of yours, that color is known as 'yum, yum yellow.'"
As someone who is constantly researching fishing and marine-related topics, I had to dig deeper into this one as I had never heard of such a phenomenon. Lo and behold, this theory might actually hold water. In an interview with world-renowned shark researcher and director of the International Shark Attack File for the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, George Burgess explains that sharks don't actually see color, but can certainly key in on areas of high contrast. Because of this, anything that is very bright against a lighter or darker background can look like a bait fish to a shark. George reports that something as simple as striped bathing suits, painted toenails or even a tattoo can catch the eye of a nearby shark. So while hi-vis colors can be beneficial to signal other water-goers and potential rescuers (for this reason, I still recommend ALWAYS having something hi-vis on your person) of your presence, it can be like sounding the alarm for a shark. The more you know, eh?
Scott has a theory of his own and aimed to clear up the confusion in a blog post on his website. He explained that he had recently reeled in a fish, an invasive peacock grouper, and stored it away in his fish bag before he "spun back around, straddled the sides of the kayak with both feet in the water, and checked my leader line for scrapes," while his motor was off. A few minutes pass before the shark made his appearance. After the encounter, Scott clarifies, "We actually fished for another half hour (in hindsight, not the smartest thing to do), and then I heard a gurgling sound that I thought was being made by a floating turtle. I saw this 5ft or 6ft long brownish thing with white spots, struggling to submerge and swim. I believe this was a wounded seal and decided we should really get out of the area." He speculates, "I believe the tiger shark mortally wounded the seal and was waiting for it to die when it came back and thought I was the dead seal since I had turned the Bixpy motor off and wasn’t paddling."
Unfortunately, speculating is all we can do. But one thing is for sure, there's nothing like a brush with death and a lot of luck to remind you where you stand in the food chain. Luckily, Scott escaped without personal injury, just some "light scratches on the kayak and bite mark on the paddle."
To see more adventures from Scott, check out his fishing blog and recipes on his website here, his Instagram via @hawaiinearshorefishing and his YouTube Channel Hawaii Nearshore Fishing.