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

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: July 21, 2022
Image Credit Alexyz3d/Shutterstock.com
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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 4th most dangerous place in the world. However, these attacks are rarely severe or fatal. 

What are great white sharks?

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Great white sharks are also known as white sharks, great whites, or white pointers.

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Great white sharks are mackerel sharks that are scientifically called Carcharodon carcharias. They are also known as white sharks, great whites, or white pointers. 

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These aquatic animals live worldwide in almost all offshore and coastal waters. They are common in the United States, Japan, Chile, South Africa, and Oceania. People also spotted them in the Mediterranean. 

Great whites are apex predators but are sometimes caught and killed by orcas. White sharks feed on other sharks, mollusks, seabirds, and crustaceans. They are considered one of the primary predators of marine mammals.

White pointers are said to be the most aggressive sharks in the world, having more than 300 recorded shark attacks. 

They can grow as long as 20 feet and weigh as much as 4,200-5000 pounds at maturity. Female whites are larger than males. Their lifespan can reach 70 years or even more. 

The fish has a white underside and a great dorsal area. These colors help them camouflage themselves and hide from the prey. White pointers have large, torpedo-shaped bodies, a pointed snout, tail fins, pectoral fins, and a large dorsal fin. They can have up to 300 serrated, triangular teeth arranged in rows that help them catch prey. 

Do great whites swim in Hawaii?

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

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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?

[Image needed. – Caption: 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. 

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 ten 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 329 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 182 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?

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Hawaii is home to approximately 40 species of inshore, offshore, and deepwater sharks, such as the tiger shark, whose attacks are much more common than those of the great white shark in Hawaii.

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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:

NameLengthHabitat
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:

NameLengthHabitat
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 real estate, nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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