HONOLULU (Reuters) - A 16-year-old boy surfing along the east coast of Hawaii’s Big Island was bitten in the legs by an 8-foot shark in the second such attack in the state in less than a week, but the teen’s mother said on Monday he is expected to make a full recovery.
The young victim, Jimmy Ulualoha “Ulu-boy” Nateahi, suffered 30 deep lacerations in the attack, which occurred while he was surfing on Sunday with friends at Pohoiki Bay. His mother was beckoning him to get out of the water, she said.
Claire Nateahi, speaking to Reuters by telephone from her son’s hospital room in Hilo, the Big Island’s main town, recalled that he had a plane to catch that day for a flight to Oahu, where he was to compete in a surfing contest.
As she waved for him to come back to shore, Jimmy shouted to her, “‘One more wave, one more wave,’ and that’s when it happened,” she said.
His mother recounted seeing the boy’s friends converge around him in the water, and from shore she and other onlookers “could see the shark going through the wave,” apparently after it had struck. His friends pulled the bleeding teenager onto his surf board and quickly paddled him to shore.
“I didn’t know it was him, but then everyone else stood up, and he didn‘t,” Claire Nateahi said. “I didn’t want it to be him.”
Jimmy was flown by helicopter to Hilo Medical Center, where he was listed in satisfactory condition on Sunday night, said William Aila, chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
He is expected to recover fully, his mother said. “He’ll be able to surf again after he heals,” she said. “He’s going to recover and he’s going to go back. ... Absolutely, it’s been his passion his whole life. He’s been surfing since he was four.”
Jimmy Nateahi did not speak to Reuters, but when his mother asked him how big the shark was, he could be heard in the background replying, “8 to 10 feet.” The type of shark was not immediately known, but the teenager told his mother it was gray in color.
Asked how she felt about sharks after the attack on her son, the boy’s mother said, “It’s their territory. It’s their home. We’ve got to share the ocean with them.”
Aila said the incident marks the ninth shark attack on a person in Hawaiian waters this year. Last Wednesday, a shark bit off the arm of a 20-year-old woman from Germany who was snorkeling in Maui, he said.
Hawaii typically documents five or six close encounters between people and sharks every year, including bites or cases in which a shark may actually bump into or brush up against someone, he said. Fatal attacks in Hawaii are rare, the last one occurring several years ago, Aila said.
The latest attack occurred at one of the few areas along the rocky Pohoiki coast that are suitable for surfing, Aila said. Hawaiian television station KHON-TV reported that the boy was attacked at a surfing spot called Dead Trees in Pohoiki Bay.
Beaches along the Pohoiki shore were closed to the public after the incident as a precaution and will remain closed until after the area is surveyed by helicopter and determined to be safe, said Hawaii County Deputy Fire Chief Renwick Victorino.
Reporting by Malia Mattoch; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Dan Grebler