Great White Sharks in Hawaii: Where They Live and How Often They’re Spotted

Great White Sharks in HI
ademyan from Getty Images Pro and vladoskan from Getty Images Pro/ via Canva.com

Written by Jeremiah Wright

Published: May 30, 2024

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Quick Answer:

  • Great white sharks live worldwide in almost all offshore and coastal waters. They are common in the United States, Japan, Chile, South Africa, and Oceania, and have been seen in the Mediterranean. 
  • As they prefer colder waters, great whites have been observed around Hawaii between January and April when the water temperature goes below 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • One of the areas around Hawaii where great whites have been seen is the White Shark Cafe, a great white shark gathering place in the mid-Pacific Ocean located between Hawaii and Baja, California.

Hawaii is home to approximately 40 species of sharks, starting from pygmy sharks that are as small as 8 inches and ending with whale sharks that can grow up to 50 feet long. The most common sharks encountered near the shores are whitetip reef sharks, sandbar sharks, and tiger sharks. Great white sharks aren’t as common, but they can be spotted in Hawaii during the year’s colder months.

In terms of shark attacks, Hawaii ranks as the fourth most dangerous place in the world. However, these attacks are rarely severe or fatal. 

Do Great Whites Swim in Hawaii?

Oahu

In 2019, the largest great white on record was spotted off the coast of Oahu.

Yes, great white sharks have been spotted around Hawaii. They visit the area between January and April when the water temperature goes below 75 degrees Fahrenheit because great whites prefer living in colder waters. 

No official record indicates specific locations in Hawaii where great white sharks have been spotted. However, in 2019, people saw what’s now considered the biggest great white shark on record off Oahu, the third-largest Hawaiian Island. The shark measured approximately 20 feet long and is believed to have been more than 50 years old. 

What Is the White Shark Cafe?

Great White cafe

White Shark Cafe is a great white shark gathering place in the mid-Pacific Ocean

Great white shark encounters around Hawaii may be linked to the White Shark Cafe, a great white shark gathering place in the mid-Pacific Ocean. It is located halfway between Baja, California, and Hawaii. Studies showed that three of four sharks would travel to the cafe over a six-month period starting in winter. This may be one of the reasons why great white sharks have been spotted around Hawaii, even though they are not native to the area. 

This Google Map shows the approximate location of this amazing gathering spot:

However, it’s still unclear why great whites go to the so-called White Sharks Cafe. Is it to mate, to feed, or something else? One thing is clear, though — once great white sharks reach the cafe, their behavior instantly changes, and they increase their dives to 980 feet for up to 10 minutes. 

Are There Great White Shark Attacks in Hawaii?

As per the Global Shark Attack File, which contains data from as early as the 1770s, there have been 348 shark attacks in Hawaii until today. This number includes unprovoked and provoked shark attacks, as well as attacks involving sea disasters and other reasons. The International Shark Attack File says that Hawaii has had 195 unprovoked shark attacks. However, these numbers might not be 100% accurate, as not all shark attacks or “failed attacks” are reported.

Very few of these attacks involved great whites, and all of them occurred on Oahu a long time ago, between the 1920s and the 1960s. One of these attacks was fatal: the body of William J. Goins was found in a 12.5-foot-long white shark caught off Kahuku. 

The reason for such a small number of great white shark attack occurrences might be that they visit Hawaii when the water is colder, so there aren’t as many tourists nearby. Another reason is that they do not come near the shores. On the other hand, tiger shark attacks are much more common in Hawaii, as they are often seen near the shoreline. 

What Other Sharks Live Around Hawaii?

Favorite and Most Popular Animals: Shark

Hawaii is home to approximately 40 species of inshore, offshore, and deepwater sharks.

Great white sharks are only one of the many species found around Hawaii. The region is home to approximately 40 species of inshore, offshore, and deepwater sharks. Those in the Carcharhinidae family are the most common sharks found near the beaches. The offshore (great white sharks included) and deepwater species are rarely spotted. 

Inshore sharks in Hawaii include:

NumberNameLengthHabitat
1Galapagos sharkUp to 12 feetNorthwestern Hawaiian Islands
2Blacktip reef sharkUp to 6 feetClose to the coastline and coral reef edge
3Gray reef sharkUp to 8 feetCommon in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
4Bignose sharkUp to 9.5 feet90 to 1,200 feet beneath the surface
5Blacktip sharkUp to 8 feetDepths of 40-210 feet; seen in Kaneohe Bay to Midway Atoll
6Sandbar sharkUp to 8 feet30-900 feet beneath the surface
7Tiger sharkUp to 16 feetCoastal and pelagic habitats
8Scalloped hammerhead sharkUp to 14 feetHilo Bay, Waimea Bay, Kaneohe Bay
9Smooth hammerhead sharkUp to 13 feetCaught at depths of 110-225 feet
10Whitetip reef sharkUp to 7 feetNear coral reefs; spotted resting in caves

Offshore sharks in Hawaii include:

NumberNameLengthHabitat
1Great white sharkUp to 21 feetRare in Hawaiian waters; sometimes spotted in Oahu
2Shortfin mako sharkUp to 14 feet110-920 feet beneath the surface
3Silky sharkUp to 10 feetRarely seen in coastal waters
4Blue sharkUp to 12-13 feetSpotted close to the shore at twilight during spring
5Whale sharkUp to 60 feet; world’s largest fishRarely seen in Hawaii; spotted a few times north of Kauai
6Thresher sharkUp to 11 feetPelagic waters
7Oceanic whitetip sharkUp to 13 feetAbundant in the tropics
8Megamouth sharkUp to 18 feetRarely seen in Hawaii; it was spotted off Oahu in 1976
9Cookiecutter sharkUp to 20 inchesCaught at night at depths up to 11,500 feet


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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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