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Shark snatching turtle startles tourists

February 4, 2014 - 8:46am

It was a scene out of National Geographic.

A large shark snatched a sea turtle swimming in the shallows along Naniloa Hilo Hotel on Friday morning, startling guests who were watching the honu from the rocky shore a few feet away.

Kalei Lyman, hotel manager, said he was called out to the scene and saw the shark swim away with the turtle firmly in its jaws.

“It was four feet in front of me,” he said, as he pointed to the rock he stood on.

Lyman said the turtle later washed ashore with a large gash in its side. About half the turtle, including a large chunk of its shell, was missing.

Jennifer Turner, director of the marine turtle research program at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, said the predator was likely a tiger shark based on descriptions. She estimated its length at 10 feet.

Turner arrived that morning to recover the turtle remains.

“It looked like a paper hole punch clicked right through it,” she said, describing the damage to the shell.

“It was impressive. It was obviously a large shark.”

Turner said she has worked with the research program for several years, and has never seen anything like it.

“It was pretty gory,” she said.

Turner said the shark bite was about 50 centimeters in diameter. The turtle’s shell was about 68 centimeters long.

“The diameter of that bite is massive,” she said.

Like turtles, sharks are common residents in the bay, though they typically stay out of sight, Turner said.

“Tigers coming that close might be a little more unusual,” Turner said.

Still, people shouldn’t be alarmed, she said, adding that sharks typically only bite people when they confuse them with prey.

“The odds are very low but you should still be aware,” Turner said.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.