Social media users encouraged to think before they post following Maui shark incident
Social media users are being encouraged by the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources to resist the urge to post and make comments before all of the facts of an incident are known. The department is making the request following the disappearance last week of a 60-year-old Washington state woman in waters off the south coast of Maui.
Collaborative investigations by the Maui Police Department and the Land Department’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement into last woman’s disappearance classify the case differently but with the same basic conclusion. A report from the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement investigating officer found that based on information from the woman’s husband and an eyewitness her disappearance is classified as “shark attack-fatal.” The Maui Police Department report calls the disappearance a “miscellaneous accident-fatal.”
It was a tragic accident, and not only was the woman’s body unable to be recovered, but her family’s grief was exacerbated by misinformation that spread quickly on social media, suggesting the incident was something other than what it was.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources has noted this kind of online behavior again and again. Family members and friends of the people involved in these kinds of tragic situation often see these posts.
The department asks people who post misinformation and conspiracy theories anonymously to stop and think about how they’d react if they were in the same situation; imagine if it was someone you knew and loved and how you’d feel.
Social media can either be a powerful tool for sharing information or a mouthpiece for tremendously hurtful and inaccurate comments directed toward people dealing with a tragedy.
On Dec. 8, officers responded to reports of a shark attack at the end of South Kihei Road fronting Keawakepu Beach in Kihei. At that time, Maui County lifeguards, Maui Fire and Emergency Services personnel and the U.S. Coast Guard were actively searching the water for “a missing female, possibly the victim of a shark bite,” according to the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement report.
Officers interviewed the missing woman’s husband who said he encountered an “aggressive” shark shortly after entering the water to snorkel about 50-yards offshore. He said he and his wife were not snorkeling right next to one another and he could only see her from time to time. As the shark continued to circle him, he continued looking for his wife and thought she might have been diving toward the ocean floor.
He told officers the shark swam off while he continued looking for his wife by popping his head out of the water and scanning the surface. He did spot something in the distance and then the shark came back, and he could see something red around the shark’s gills. At that time, he said people on the beach began yelling at him to get out of the water because a shark was feeding in the area.
The account given by the woman’s husband is corroborated by an eyewitness on the beach who said he saw a large shark feeding on something in the water. The witness had spotted the couple snorkeling earlier and began looking for them to warn them, “when he saw the shark’s large mouth continuing to feed on something in the middle of the red cloud in the water.” He continued yelling for the woman’s husband to get out of the water but no longer was seeing the woman. This witness called 911 to report the incident.