Father, son recount frightening shark attack off Maui

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KAHULUI, Hawaii (KHON) — A professional photographer by trade, Daniel Sullivan did not have the chance to capture the image of the shark that sunk his kayak on Tuesday off the coast of Maui. One could bet that it is burned into his memory, however. 

“When it rose up out of the water there was a lot of white. I saw white, a bit of gray and white,” Sullivan said. “And then these teeth!” He says he and his 15-year-old son, Tristan, spotted a mother whale and her calf being led by dolphins about one mile offshore. He snapped some photos just before the calm water they were enjoying turned dangerously turbulent.

“While we were observing them, we had a huge impact come up from the bottom of the boat and I saw the shark,” Sullivan said. “The whole mouth of the shark came up and bit into the side and pushed the entire boat up, and then pulled us back down into the water.”

Sullivan says he started pushing the shark away with his paddle before the two got back on the kayak. That is when they saw giant teeth marks and water coming in. “These huge teeth rising up out of the water. It was like the movies. I got a really good look at the shark because it bit very close to my leg.”

“I said to Tristan, ‘We need to make a swim for it,” he said. He had his phone but it would not work. “So, we started swimming.” The two reached land an exhausting 35 minutes later.  

“The entire thing was pretty scary. we feel really lucky to be alive” Sullivan said. 

“We’re just happy to be here,” said Tristan Sullivan. “It was very scary, especially when we had to swim back when it was deep and there’s nothing below you and knowing it’s right behind you.”  

The kayak was later recovered onshore. Marine biologists are hoping to get a good enough DNA sample from the bite mark to determine the species. 

Looking back Daniel Sullivan says they kept a safe distance from the whales and followed all safety measures and protocols. 

“We did everything in my mind we were supposed to do,” he said. “We did not chase the whales. They came towards us. We gave them space, they came closer, and they were really close to us. In that situation we would have eventually just backed away if not for the shark attacking us. It all happened very fast. There’s nothing that can prepare you for that moment when you feel like your life is threatened. It’s just pure instinct.”

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