Every year, Discovery Channel fans count down the days until the coveted SHARK WEEK begins. Though the Discovery Channel does show the terrifying strength of these cartilaginous fish, it also does a lot to recognize the importance of sharks in the marine ecosystem. Many people consider sharks as evil, frightening, large, scary creatures however, it is important to  realize how vital sharks are to us. Riding on the momentum of shark week fanfare, many media outlets go the fantastic route by sensationalizing the portrayal of these animals as “man eating machines”, but it just is not the case.

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Sharks are considered to be the “garbage collector” of the ocean; meaning they are scavengers.  They hunt for easy targets such as injured, sick, dying, or diseased animals. Once these inferior animals are consumed, we have the opportunity to eat healthy seafood which is a primary staple in the diet of most cultures. As one of our apex predators, sharks keep the marine food chain in balance. Without regulation of alpha predators, some animals may become over populated leading to a devastating domino effect in the food chain.

The majority of sharks are average 2-4 feet in length and are surprisingly skittish animals.  Many times sharks are even afraid of humans, avoiding areas with 15 or more people because they become uncomfortable.

Not only do sharks play an important role in the ocean ecosystem here in Hawaii, they are also extremely important to Hawaiian culture. Hawaiians  call it “aumakua”; which is an ancestor that has passed away and come back in a different form to be a family god or the protector. Most times, aumakuas are seen in sharks because Hawaiian’s are considered to be people of the ocean. Therefore, sharks are respected here in the Hawaiian Islands. If you see a shark while snorkeling here around Maui you should feel fortunate to have such good luck. 

When snorkeling in Maui waters you may be wondering what sharks could be out there? Below is a list of the most common sharks found in the Pacific:

Blacktip Reef Shark

Typically found in shallow, inshore waters over reef flats. This shark is identified by its black tipped dorsal fin. They are a smaller shark species, growing up to approximately 5ft long. They exhibit strong site fidelity and will stay within the same local area for years. 

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Whitetip Reef Sharks

A smaller species of shark reaching lengths of around 5ft. Whitetips are easily recognizable with a slender body and a dorsal fin with a white tip. They spend most of their time during the day resting inside caves and under ledges. 

Photo courtesy of Trilogy Excursions Ambassador Matthew W.

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Named for the shape of their head, which ... looks like a hammer . Unlike most sharks, hammerheads swim in schools during the day but become solitary at night. Molokaʻi is well known for its schooling hammerhead dives. 

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Galapagos Sharks

This species can reach lengths of approximately 9ft with a typical “shark” like body shape. It has a very tall dorsal fin compared to other shark species and is commonly seen in clear, tropical water.

Photo Attribution: Claire Fackler, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries

Photo Attribution NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center

Tiger Sharks

One of the larger shark species in the Hawaiʻian Islands,     growing up to approximately 16ft. It gets its name from the dark strips that run along its body, resembling the stripes of a tiger. The tiger shark is ‘near threatened’ on the IUCN red list due to finning by humans. If you have not heard of "finning," check out the film SHARKWATER which details the dark, shark fin soup trade that is diminishing shark populations.

Attribution for above photos: By Albert kok (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Whale Sharks

Whale sharks are the largest shark species in existence today, reaching lengths up to 40ft. While their name can be confusing, this is indeed a shark species and is named for its potentially massive size. The whale shark is found in open, tropical water. While they are the largest shark species, they are filter feeders who eat a very tiny food source, plankton. On very lucky days, we see whale sharks on Trilogy tours.

Whale shark spotted on Trilogy tour. Photo courtesy of Captain Pat.

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As we mentioned earlier, sharks are one of our apex predators and a key to our healthy ecosystem, however they are being killed at outstanding rates. There are about 30-100 million sharks killed a year due to fishing activities and as many as 11,000 in one hour. As ocean lovers, it is our job to move beyond the fears of sharks created by sensational media and create a healthy sustainable coexistence. We leave you with a video selected by GoPro Awards: Ocean Ramsey and a Whale Shark, to open your eyes to the beauty of sharks. Note - Ocean Ramsey has years of experience freediving with sharks and we do not recommend trying this on your own without a trained professional.




By Trilogy Intern, Rachel Nguyen