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An Issue Of Safety Or Culture?

Shark tour ban for Oahu passes first reading

Gina Mangieri  Sep 17, 2009

On the long list of why opponents of shark tours don't like them, they say the tours are an affront to Hawaiian culture.

"Sharks have a very important role within the Hawaiian religious system... We need to have the culture to be respected," said shark tour opponent Leighton Tseu.

That was among testimony against the tours at the first reading of a bill to ban shark tours on Oahu.

During a shark tour, people are put in cages while sharks swim around them.

Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board chair Greg Knudsen said, "Shark tours attracts sharks. They attract sharks by feeding them."

The council already passed a resolution against them in May, but that isn't enforceable like this ordinance would be.

"Following up on the resolution that you previously passed so it is a very good thing. We really welcome the attention that this is getting, that the momentum is building," said Knudsen. Building because Maui county has banned shark tours county wide.

Tseu said, "And I am happy that the county of Maui has passed, that there will be no shark tours on Maui, Molokai."

But not everybody is happy. Proponents say the tours are safe and unobtrusive.

"You visit sharks in their natural environment. You don't attract sharks, you don't do anything to feed sharks. It's safe," said Juergen Steinmetz of the Hawaii Tourism Association.

The industry conducted its own study to prove it.

Steinmetz, said: "If you look at that, you will find that that study is pretty shallow and in many ways invalid, primarily because the data they used was provided by the shark tour operators themselves."

The operators say the study is sound, as are the contributions they're making to the local economy in terms of tourist dollars and north shore jobs.

This bill would slap violators with a US$1,000 fine or up to a year in prison.

Today was first-reading of the bill and it passed. The next hearing and vote is scheduled for October 8.

Shark tour ban for Oahu passes first reading
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