Kekaha Kai State Park remained closed for a second day Wednesday while a 28-year-old Kailua-Kona man remained hospitalized, recovering from shark bites to his leg. The shark attack occurred shortly before 1 p.m. Tuesday afternoon in waters off the Mahaiula area.
James Kerrigan was in good spirits when he spoke with West Hawaii Today in his Kona Community Hospital room Wednesday.
Kerrigan said he doesn’t remember seeing a shark, reported to be a tiger shark 12 to 14 feet in length. He remembers only feeling something grab his leg as he swam alongside his fiance, Mary Jo Sorrentino, about 100 yards offshore, contradicting police reports that he had seen the shark about 100 feet offshore and was attacked while trying to swim to shore.
Sorrentino also said she did not see any sign of the cartilaginous fish while the two swam through clear water in Mahaiula Bay. However, she did see a blur of gray when her fiance, who was listed in stable condition Wednesday afternoon, screamed.
“I didn’t feel anything uncomfortable. I didn’t even know it was there until it got me. I don’t really remember the exact feeling of it. It felt, at first, like a person grabbed me from behind and tried to pull me under. I thought someone was messing with me. I didn’t even realize it was a shark,” said Kerrigan. “It got my leg and it felt like it thrashed its head back and forth a little bit. And, as soon as I started moving and making noise, he was gone. He just swam away and I never saw him again.”
Kerrigan swam, with Sorrentino alongside, almost to shore on his own strength before beachgoers Edward Dalton and Alan Ericksson helped him out of knee-deep water and dragged him up the sand. Dalton and Ericksson witnessed the attack, telling West Hawaii Today at the scene that the shark’s head, dorsal fin and back were visible during the attack.
A retired EMT from California, a nurse from North Hawaii Community Hospital and a Hawaii Fire Department volunteer captain helped stabilize Kerrigan while emergency personnel responded. The couple wished to express their thanks to the three, and other beachgoers who provided towels and other items to help.
“I give them all my thanks,” he said, noting the fire department’s response was prompt. They had him in the air and bound for the hospital within 30 minutes of the attack. “For complete strangers to come up and do that much for me — I can’t say enough about them because they didn’t have to.”
He also added to Dalton, Ericksson and friends visiting from Hilo: “Sorry for ruining your towels.”
The shark bit deeply into his right thigh and calf, damaging muscle and causing “a lot” of blood loss, but sparing bones, tendons and arteries, Kerrigan said, adding he did have to undergo surgery. He was slated to receive two pints of blood on Wednesday because of blood lost during the encounter.
Kerrigan, however, is optimistic that he will be discharged from the hospital and be at his home this evening.
Though the Kona International Airport Transportation Security Administration employee, who was enjoying Mahaiula on his day off, will not be able to put weight on the leg for about a month, Kerrigan said a full recovery is expected. He also plans to be in the ocean again, eventually, but most likely not at Mahaiula.
Despite the attack, Kerrigan, who’d never encountered a shark before Tuesday, said he has no hard feelings for sharks. Though he knew he was entering the shark’s element when going swimming, Kerrigan said he was surprised the shark was around during the middle of the day in clear water.
“Sharks don’t tend to see people as food — they usually tend to bite and run because you’re in their house and they don’t know what you are and what you’re doing there. And, not having hands to touch you, they bite,” said Kerrigan, who moved to the Big Island about nine months ago from New Jersey. “So, he came and he bit me and I guess he didn’t like what he got. I’m just glad I didn’t taste good.”
The park remained closed for a second day on Wednesday after a helicopter flyover spotted a large tiger shark in the vicinity of where Kerrigan was attacked and eight reef sharks measuring about 5 to 6 feet long in the north section of Mahaiula Bay.
A flyover will be conducted this morning. If no sharks are present, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources will reopen the park.
This is the second shark attack in West Hawaii waters so far in 2013. On Jan. 16, a 43-year-old man was surfing in waters off Kiholo Bay when a shark bit his hand, according to the DLNR. In 2011, there were two reports of sharks biting boards, but not injuring the riders, near Lyman’s surf spot in Kailua-Kona.
Prior to that, an attack occurred in October 1999 when a 16-year-old boy had his arm bitten by a 6- to 8-foot shark while he was surfing shortly before sunset off Old Kona Airport Park, according to West Hawaii Today archives. An unconfirmed attack was also reported April 1987 in Kailua Bay and a confirmed attack occurred in 1963 off South Kona, according to the archives.