The kayak believed to belong to fatal shark attack victim Patrick A. Briney.

The kayak believed to belong to fatal shark attack victim Patrick A. Briney’s friend. Facebook photo, MauiWatch

An Awful First: Shark Kills Kayak Fisherman Patrick A. Briney
Was the attack foreseeable? One lifelong local fisherman thinks so.
By Paul Lebowitz

Until December 2, 2013, a shark had not killed a kayak angler in the modern era. Yesterday, Patrick A. Briney (57) of Stevenson, Washington, became that awful first statistic.

By now the basic information is everywhere. Before we dive deep into the details that attempt to answer a difficult question – whether the attack preventable or could have been foreseen – here's a short recap for those just learning the tragic news.

Briney was fishing with an as yet unidentified friend offshore of the Makena area in South Maui, Hawaii. The pair was some distance from land, roughly halfway to the small island of Molokini.

As he worked a set of lures, Briney was dangling his right leg over the side of his kayak, believed to be a granite colored 9-foot long Hobie Mirage Sport. A shark, species unknown, bit his leg. His friend, who was fishing several hundred yards away, applied a tourniquet and hailed the charter boat Sea Spirit for help. The boat raced Briney to Kihei Landing to meet emergency responders, but he likely died before reaching land.

Now for the new information. According to a lifelong Makena fisherman, an experienced local might have noticed warning signs indicating an elevated risk of shark attack.

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Captain Jon Jon Tabon, a kayak fishing guide with Local Knowledge Fishing, is intimately familiar with the area of the attack. It's a popular, productive zone for kayak anglers, who enjoy an easy launch from nearby Makena Landing.

It's also known for frequent tiger shark encounters. The big, curious and at times aggressive sharks are suspected in a flurry of attacks in the area. According to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, a shark bit a woman just three days prior to Briney's fatal wounding. In August, a German tourist died after her arm was severed in an attack at nearby Palauea.

Tabon is out there almost every day, but he chose to stay home that fateful morning. He had a feeling.

"I had a scheduled trip that I cancelled. You have to be in tune with the ocean. Normally in that area you'll see 30 to 40 turtles," he said, noting that he'd only seen a handful the prior day, and the water was unusually murky. "That tells you something," he added.

Tabon believes the tiger sharks have come to associate kayak anglers with easy meals, presumably fish struggling on the line. Such 'taxation' is common in tropical oceanic waters. He's seen big tiger sharks up close many times. He thinks dangling feet in the water is a bad idea, although he does it himself from time to time.

"I've probably had maybe at least 10, 12 shark encounters this year where I could have poked the shark in the eye with my fingers," he said. One was longer than his 14-foot kayak.

"Here's this big dorsal fin and this big head coming out of the water. It was so high, the fin hit my ama," he said.

It would be a mistake to believe Tabon is afraid of the sharks. He isn't angry either, just wary and respectful.

"They're just a part of the ocean like anything else. They play a very big part in the ecosystem," said Tabon, who believes it would be wrong to indiscriminately hunt the area's tiger sharks. It wouldn't be fair; it is impossible to identify the guilty party.