Kauai has more beaches than any other Hawaiian island, so if you’re planning a vacation, you’ll undoubtedly be looking forward to enjoying yourself next to or in the ocean.
As a popular destination for swimming and water-related activities, many visitors wonder whether the waters surrounding the island are home to one of the sea’s most feared predators: sharks.
Yes, sharks live naturally around Kaui, as they do in almost all the world’s oceans.
Fortunately, incidents involving sharks and humans are very rare, especially considering how many people enjoy the Hawaiian ocean each year.
So, before you worry unnecessarily, this article will give you the facts about the different Kaui sharks, where they live, the times of the year they’re most frequently seen, and look at swimming safety.
So, read on, and you’ll learn all you need about sharks in Kauai, Hawaii.
What Types of Sharks Can You Find in Kauai?
Are there sharks off Kauai? Yes, there are. The Pacific Ocean surrounding Kauai and the rest of the Hawaiian islands is famous amongst scuba divers and marine scientists as one of the best places in the world to see sharks.
Sharks are even an essential part of Hawaiian culture and are considered as critical to the islands’ health and wealth.
Regarding the types of sharks living in Kauai, the Department of Land and Natural Resources says that about forty species inhabit Hawaiian waters.
Unless you have a particular interest, it’s probably fair to say you won’t be especially concerned about small species like the 8-inch-long pygmy shark or rare deep-water inhabitants such as the frilled shark.
So, let’s look at the eight species most commonly seen in nearshore waters. These species are all top-level carnivores and are considered vital in keeping the ocean’s ecosystem healthy.
Whitetip Reef Shark
The whitetip is the most common of the Hawaiian reef sharks, and they’re often seen amongst the shallower reefs hunting for fish, crustaceans, or octopus.
Look out for the distinctive white tip markings on their dorsal and upper tail (caudal) fins.
Unlike many sharks, the whitetip doesn’t need to swim all the time to breathe. This means they are frequently seen during the day resting on the seafloor or inside small caves.
Whitetip reef sharks are not considered dangerous to people. There’s never been a recorded incident involving one in Kauai, where the local name is mano lalakea.
Blacktip Reef Shark
As you’d expect, the blacktip reef shark (mano pa’ele in Hawaiian) has black tips that can be seen on its dorsal and tail tips.
This shark likes to swim amongst reef ledges and shallow flats, so snorkelers see them reasonably often.
Fortunately, this is another Hawaiian reef shark that isn’t a threat to humans, and there are no recorded incidents in Kauai.
Gray Reef Shark
The gray isn’t as common as the other two reef sharks, but it is found around the northwestern islands, including Kauai.
This shark tends to stay a little further offshore than its two cousins, meaning it’s typically only seen by scuba divers who venture to the deeper reefs where the gray likes to cruise amongst the strong currents.
Gray reef sharks are not generally thought of as dangerous unless provoked. Fortunately, there are no recorded incidents in Kauai.
The easiest way to identify a sandbar shark is by its longer-than-normal pectoral fins and often somewhat brownish color.
This shark often sticks to deeper coastal water, but you may see one coming shallow enough to see as they hunt in bays for small reef fishes, crustaceans, or mollusks.
Luckily the sandbar has a docile nature, and while it is sometimes curious toward people, it is often called one of the safest species of shark to swim with.
Blacktip sharks are relatively common around Kauai and, locally, are not thought of as being particularly dangerous.
The shark has black-colored edges on almost all its fins and a noticeably pointed nose to look out for.
Blacktips tend to be most active in surf zones, where they can occasionally be seen leaping from the water as they attack baitfish schools.
Accordingly, it’s best to avoid swimming where there’s a lot of baitfish to prevent any accidental nips from a hunting shark.
The scalloped hammerhead shark, known as mano kihikihi, is the species of these funny-shaped sharks most commonly living around Kauai, although the smooth hammerhead can also be found.
However, it’s unlikely that swimmers will see either, as hammer sharks tend to stay in quieter, deeper waters.
The species has the potential to deliver a nasty bite. However, as the shark is typically timid, they’re not considered dangerous, and no incidents have been recorded in Hawaii.
The Galapagos shark is more common around Kauai than on the southerly islands. However, it’s still not seen particularly often.
Like the gray reef, this shark sticks to deeper reefs and will be found where currents come together.
The Galapagos has the potential to be dangerous, particularly if provoked, so it should be respected if seen.
However, while there have been four historical non-fatal incidents (all considered as provoked) around other Hawaiian islands, there has never been one at Kauai.
Thanks to the dark, vertical stripes that give the species its name, you’ll quickly identify a tiger shark if you see one.
Tiger sharks are known to swim almost anywhere and will eat almost anything.
They’re particularly attracted to the smell of fishing activities or where any food is dumped or washed onto the ocean.
Although humans are definitely not on the tiger shark’s preferred menu, occasional episodes have taken place that are usually suspected of being either misidentification or exploratory bites as the shark tries to work out what a person is.
It’s important to retain perspective. While incidents involving tiger sharks have happened over the years, and the animal is responsible for the majority of bites, the numbers are still extremely low, especially considering the millions of people who visit Kauai annually.
Authorities may close beaches in the surrounding area if an aggressive tiger shark is seen.
However, many of the secluded beaches of Kauai don’t have lifeguards. So, if you do see a tiger shark in shallow water, the best advice is to exit the water just in case slowly.
Other tiger shark-specific advice includes being aware of unusual or erratic behavior displayed by sea turtles in the area.
Turtles are one of the tiger sharks’ favorite foods and are extremely sensitive to the predator’s presence.
Is It Safe To Swim in Kauai?
In the context of Kauai sharks, swimming here is considered very safe.
The local authorities report that incidents of sharks biting people without provocation occur only seven or eight times a year on average across the whole of Hawaii.
Put that in the context of the 1.37 million visitors who visited Kaui alone in 2019, and you can see that the chances of getting bitten by a shark are incredibly low.
However, it’s still essential to understand that sharks exist naturally, and when you enter the water, you are going into their territory. Accordingly, everyone should act sensibly to avoid unnecessarily increasing their risk.
Instead of sharks, there’s a much greater chance of getting stung by one of the jellyfish found in Hawaii and a greater one still of getting in trouble in the water itself.
While Kauis beaches are stunning, the waters can have hidden dangers, including rip currents, strong surf, and sudden drop-offs that can put swimmers into potentially fatal difficulties.
With so many beaches, you should know that not all have lifeguards. So, suppose you’re concerned or aren’t the strongest swimmer. In that case, you should visit one that lifeguards monitor: Anahola, Haena, Hanalei, Ke’e, Kealia, Kekaha, Lydgate, Pine Trees Waioli, Poipu, and Salt Pond.
Wherever you go, check for any warning signs before entering the water.
Are there Great White Sharks in Kauai?
Great white sharks live naturally in the Northern Pacific Ocean surrounding Kauai.
However, they are much rarer here than in California or South Africa.
The infamous shark prefers colder waters than those typically found in Kauai, so marine scientists only expect them between January and April.
When they are spotted, they’re almost always far out at sea, and thankfully there is only one record of a great white ever biting a person in Hawaii. This happened in 2021 when a surfer was bitten on their arm at Kailua-Kona.
Where Can You Find Sharks in Kauai?
The simple answer to “Where are the sharks in Kauai?” is, potentially, everywhere in the ocean.
However, local experts rate the following locations as best if you want to see sharks.
Na Pali Coast – Snorkelers often see reef sharks at Kalalau and Ke’e Beach.
Hanalei Bay and Poipu Beach – Excellent chances to see white and blacktip reef sharks.
Tunnels Beach – Another excellent reef shark spotting location, popular with scuba divers and snorkelers. Also known for tiger shark visits, visitors should check local warnings and never swim alone.
Sheraton Caverns – One of the best scuba diving sites on Kauai. Whitetip reef sharks are frequently seen here resting photogenically on ledges inside the numerous caverns.
General Store – Another excellent scuba site where larger reef sharks may be seen.
Ni’ihau Island (The Forbidden Island) – Visited as a boat trip from Kauai, and known for hammerhead and gray reef sharks, along with the occasional Galapagos.
What Time of Year Are Sharks Most Active in Kauai, Hawaii?
Sharks are present in Kauai all year round.
However, regarding shark bite incidents, the authorities say that October is the peak.
It’s thought that during this month, female tiger sharks visit shallow waters to give birth meaning that encounters with humans may be more likely.
The stunning “Garden Island” of Kaui is home to many sharks that live in the ocean and play a vital part in its delicate balance.
Sharks are so important to the Hawaiian environment that, in January 2022, it became illegal to “knowingly capture, entangle, or kill a shark in state marine waters.”
While some Kauai sharks, notably the tiger, are potentially dangerous, the majority that are encountered are reef sharks that are quite safe.
Thankfully, incidents involving the more threatening species are incredibly rare.
Kauai is rated as a safe place to swim as long as common sense and local warning notices are followed.
British-born Dan has been a scuba instructor and guide in Egypt's Red Sea since 2010.
Dan loves inspiring safe, fun, and environmentally responsible diving and particularly enjoys the opportunity to dive with sharks or investigate local shipwrecks.
When not spending time underwater, Dan can usually be found biking and hiking in Sharm's desert surroundings.