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Diver encounters great white shark off Kona shore


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This is not the great white shark spotted by Mark Barville off the Kona shore, but this photograph does show the clear line between the dark grey body and milky white underbelly. (Photo by Terry Goss)

(Editor’s Note: Mark Barville, an experienced Kona diver and spearfisherman, shares his story with Hawaii 24/7)

Mark Barville and the awa he caught that the white shark was trying to eat. Photo by Lynnette Stevens | Special to Hawaii 24/7

Mark Barville and the awa he caught that the white shark was trying to eat. Photo by Lynnette Stevens | Special to Hawaii 24/7

I was attacked by a 16-foot great white shark around noon Saturday (March 17) while I was spearfishing. The attack was in about 20 feet of water, approximately 100 yards from shore.

About 50 people were on shore, on a rocky point above a finger reef, having a memorial for their “Aunty Nella.” After they spread her ashes in the water, they all saw the shark trying to eat an 18 lb. awa I had speared that was hanging from my dive buoy.

The surface of the water was somewhat dirty, and when I approached my dive buoy, I realized there was a giant shark eating my awa. Actually, it had swallowed the awa whole and was trying to finish swallowing it, but couldn’t because my kui line is 600 lb. hard mamoi mono.

The first thing I noticed after looking at the tremendous size of this shark, was that the color was all wrong for a tiger shark. The upper portion was a solid color: dull, light brown/gray. Then I saw the distinctive jagged line near the bottom of its sides where the color changed to solid milk white.

Mark Barville and the speargun he used to push away a white shark that he encountered in Kona. The speargun wasn't set to fire and didn't have the sharp tip on the end of the shaft. Photo by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7.

Mark Barville and the speargun he used to push away a white shark that he encountered in Kona. The speargun wasn't set to fire and didn't have the sharp tip on the end of the spear shaft. Photo by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7.

I am a commercial fisherman, and a very experienced spearo, with tens of thousands of hours in the water. My credibility is rock solid among my peers.

I know my sharks, and this was definitely, unquestionably, a great white shark, even though it was the first I have ever seen in my life in the water. I’ve had encounters with many sharks and there is no question this was a great white.

It was not a mako (they have large black eyes and a pointed nose), it was not a tiger (they have a flat nose like the side of a table, and their colors are darker and mottled at the very least, and you can usually see the darker vertical stripes).

It was aggressive and it was injured. There’s no way I would ever imagine a great white shark coming so close to shore. I’ve never even talked to anyone who has seen a great white off the Big Island. It must have been hungry.

It was about 16 feet long, confirmed by the 50 people who saw the shark from shore, many of whom took photos of the shark.

The shark moved very slowly and deliberately. It had severe wounds all over its body that looked like they were pretty fresh. The shark had a severe abrasion, deep into the skin, on the right side of its body, about 4 feet long and 2 feet high.

It had deep cuts in many of its fins. The left side had numerous other fresh abrasions. It may have had a recent battle with a long line (that’s a guess).

I used every technique I knew to scare the shark away. It was impervious to my yelling underwater, screaming, and hitting it with my gun.

At that point it regurgitated the awa, then it made a slow turn and came directly at me, but not increasing speed. I held my large speargun (which was not loaded, and did not have the spear tip on) towards the shark.

Barville shows how the sharp tip of his spear (the tip is resting on his finger) was left off when he pushed it against the shark. Barville said he didn't want to hurt the shark and just tried to get it to go away. Photo by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

Barville shows how the sharp tip of his spear (the tip is resting on his finger) was left off when he pushed it against the shark. Barville said he didn't want to hurt the shark and just tried to get it to go away. Photo by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

The head of the shark was utterly enormous, and I knew I was in trouble. It was like seeing a dinosaur.

It closed the membrane over its eyes and opened its mouth. I made a bullfighter maneuver to get out of its way, then I took my gun and jabbed it with all my strength into its belly which was about 3 feet away.

The shark was not even phased by this deep jab (it felt like jabbing into a steak covered with 1/4 inch leather). The shark turned and approached me again, so I dove directly at it, screaming and yelling and hitting it with the tip of my gun (I had a shaft in the gun, but I never had time to load the gun).

The great white moved back again toward the awa, which was still on my buoy. The buoy line is 75 feet long, so I took the opportunity to swim to shore, looking back the whole time.

I saw that there was a shallow finger reef in the 20 foot deep water, so I swam over this reef, which was about 2 to 4 feet below the surface, figuring the shark would not want to do that.

Aunty Nella’s family were all there, partially in the water, ready to grab my gun, my fins, and help me out of the water. Then we pulled the buoy in and the GWS followed it in to about 50 feet from shore.

The bottom of Barville's kui (stringer) is a metal piece attached to 600 pound test monofilament line. Photo by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

The bottom of Barville's kui (stringer) is a metal piece attached to 600 pound test monofilament line. Photo by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

Many folks were taking photos of the shark as it came in. I have not seen any of these photos yet, but the folks got my phone number and email and said they’d send me the photos.

While all the drama was going on, folks feared I had been bit (I nearly was), and had called 911. Two police cars, two ambulances, a fire truck and a boat showed up. I told Paramedic Chris Berg that I had seen two SCUBA divers nearby.

The boat came, Chris called them and told them where I had seen the SCUBA divers, and they located them and escorted them to shore.

During this time, the great white shark made two more appearances in front of the rescue people about 50 feet from shore (in the 20 foot deep water between the two shallow finger reefs.

The first was half an hour after I got out of the water, the second was about 15 minutes later. It was witnessed by many of the folks.

A photo of Mark Barville's dive buoy offshore where he had his encounter with a white shark. Photo by Lynnette Stevens | Special to Hawaii 24/7

A photo of Mark Barville's dive buoy offshore, in the upper-right of this photo, where he had his encounter with a white shark. Photo by Lynnette Stevens | Special to Hawaii 24/7

The 50 people on shore who assisted me told me they had gathered for a memorial service to spread Aunty Nella’s ashes. I said, “well, I suspect she was with me for some reason and saved my life.”

I wish I knew their names so I could thank these wonderful people.

The good thing is that the great white shark had swallowed the awa whole, so there were on a couple of bites into the fish, so it was still perfectly good to eat.

So I gave it to them, along with a nice tako, as a thank you gift to them and to Aunty Nella who may have saved my life, which made my wife (Dr. Lisa Barville with Kaiser Permanente) and my sons, Caleb and Micah, very happy.

I normally go diving every day. But I didn’t go today (Sunday, March 18) and I think I won’t go for a few days.

It was the first time I’ve seen a great white and I really don’t want to see another one.


Photography by Curtis DeLima | Special to Hawaii 24/7

From Curtis DeLima who was on the shoreline –
I was lucky enough to capture these few photos in the “heat of the moment”. I wish I had better ones…..but at the time, we were just sooo concerned about Mark. I yelled to everyone, “when he gets close to the reef, help him get out of the water!” Cousins and wives were on the phone calling fire rescue as everything was going on. I just kept hitting the shutter button to capture what I could and to keep an eye on Mark through my lens. We were all in, “help mode”. LOL. There were a few people who just couldn’t watch what was going on. It was that scary! And we weren’t the ones in the water. In one of the photos, it seemed like Mark looked right at me through the lens. It was at that moment when I heard Mark scream “WHITE SHARK!”.

Editor’s Note: This story will be updated over time as we get in more photos/video so check back often.

  • Taco

    To bad you should have left the fish for the shark to finish. If he is as hurt and hungry as you say than he might cruse a more populated area… or not.

    • opae

      Wrong, having trained numerous animals, I and many others know that feeding a shark or most any other animal will reinforce it’s behavior, and if done even a few times it will associate divers and this area with food, and will repeat this positively reinforced behavior again and again.

      • Taco

        This is not a trained monkey it is a hungry animal cruising the shore for a meal. He is still cruising the shore for an easy meal. The fish he speared would have been that meal. You know the stuff sharks eat. If you say you know animals than you would know he might eat things Other than fish in desperation. Plus its kind of weird to have a tug of war with a great white over a fish.

  • ms kailua kona

    Mark should have left his prized fish an awa to this injured shark who may have been in a weakened state from his injuries. Mark will always spear another fish this great white may not make it to see the light of another Hawaiian day.

    • Ben

      By the replies It obvious yall no nothing of sharks swimming with sharks and swimming with sharks while hunting
      I spearfish evey weekend and have run ins with bull sharks a quarter of the time
      A bull shark is the most aggressive animal on the planet with the largest concentrate of testosterone of any animal
      Mark did everything right
      The worst thing you can do and will almost guarantee that you get bit is to let the shark have your catch
      nothing fires a shark off more than a mouth full of blood and as soon as they get your catch there eyes roll back and they bite anything they can get a hold of
      Fortunately most of my shark encounters resulted in the shark moving on or me retreating the the boat
      In the last four years I’ve had over 100 encounters with sharks and have only had to kill two

      • ms kailua kona

        I just came back from watching Sonny Tanabe, spear fisherman & free diver, at the West Hawaii Civic Center to see Mark tell a completely different story than what really happened that day. I was appalled when the 40 people in the audience had to listen to another untrue version of his shark crapola story. Mark didn’t tell anyone that he was spearfishing that day and had a fish on the line that was dying that attracted the shark. He made no mention the fish was swallowed whole by the shark.

        According to the newest version of the great white shark Mark was attacked without a fish in the story. The great white just magically appeared then opened it’s jaws to try to eat Mark. Hogwash! I was screaming in my mind as he animated said the great white shark rolled back it’s eyes to eat me! What! Yeah right!

        Mark even went as far as to state that NOONE in the whole Aunt Nella party even spoke to him that day. They were too traumatized that day so apparently two weeks later they want to talk. Huh?

        The audience was puzzled as he quickly escaped from the limelight just in time before all the questions came. He did mention his wife was a doctor at Kaiser.

        Next week stay tuned when he says the great white shark swallowed him whole. After leaving the civic center I spoke to an underwater cameraman that couldn’t understand Mark’s newest version. So when I told him I saw this article he was in disbelief since it was completely different. In fact Mark said there was a bleeding fish not telling the part he was spearfishing that day.

        Wow

        Next time Mark just cut the line your 5 minutes of fame is over.

        • ms kailua kona

          P. S. Aunt Nella had nothing to do with the reason Mark survived his ordeal with a most likely starving fatally injured great white it was only after a dying fish. Once Mark prodded the hungry shark with his spear gun the shark instinctively let go. It just happened to be a coincidence nothing more that the family of Aunt Nella picked that spot.

          • Trinidad A. Williams

            ATTN: ms kailua kona,

            Please bear in mind the validating photo of the metal tip on the kui (stringer) that the awa was strung on-photo accompanied the article … the point of interest in the Mark Barville encounter with the GWS ~ photo of the awa taken by Lynnette Stevens-family member-photo’s and commenting by Curtis DeLima-family member ~ awa gifted to Aunt Nella’s family ~ should be enough to stiffle any of your discounting to the events that occurred at the Wawaloli Beach Park approximately 100 yards from the waters’ edge … a true account of what transpired that day 3/17/2012 …

            At this point – attending an event of another speardiver relating his experiences does not make Mark’s occurence another speardiving tale … Marks’ relating now – can possibly be a person’s psychological rationale to recover and heal from a deep traumatic experience to shield the mind from the horror – to be able to continue an activity that is a great part of his life … I cannot even begin to explain the tricks’ of the mind that rationalize-wipe away memory to make one relate or not relate the chronological event happening of a horrific experience … I will say that as that days’ moments evolved-unfolded all nuance and contributing factor’s that was going on did impress on Marks’ mind and his agitated state of mind made note of it so accurately as to match the accounts of eye witnesses-participants who were there – who has suffered the trauma of viewing what did happen ~ so much so where they even – are dealing with their own trauma of that day’s “what if’s” … from both viewpoints – only time will ease the mind – and one will never know how the experience will alter prior perspection regarding the sea and its’ dangers.

            Nella’s family will always link her ash scattering memorial to Mark Barville’s horrifying encounter for they were impressed with his emotional-physical-spiritual battle as they were each trying to let go of Nella’s spirit ~ the very air-nature of emotional spillage-upheaval melded into a spiritual experience for all … is why Mark recalls “Aunt Nella” in his article relating ~ why the agitated participants who tried to help him stick in his mind as Aunt Nella’s family … is why “spooky” is the word Nella’s family individually refer to the day’s occurrence … not an expression commonly used to describe an experience unless it has all the undertones of “mana” or unseen forces involved … with people who spend much time in the ocean – especially those who come from culture’s that observe-connect their life passion-work with the sea ~ they have a spiritual awareness for its’ denizen’s – and it will surface in one’s revelations’ as their experiences’ with the sea go on in their life – I know it is true for I’m keenly aware of an element not common in everyday routine on land … these are a breed apart and live aware with spirit nature …

            I know one would find it difficult to describe this level of an experience to a body-venue that is showcasing routine speardive information … how does one sort the knowledge of experience to voice it in a fact-data outline without reliving it – how does one describe “mana” to a body without revealing one’s fears-awe-gratitude-gratefulness ~ addling fact with unseen awareness ~ what would have been the reception to Marks’ accounting with the GWS without “scientific” justification for injecting-contributing his “impressions” … it would have been as you describe – disjointed-unconnected – all the rhyme and reason would have to be left out distorting original version.

            There is the GWS breed in Hawaiian waters’ – they’ve been seen in other parts of the Hawaiian chain – they have been tailing the grey whales in their migratory trek to the islands’ channel. The food chain-climatic changes has impacted their territorial haunts to the point where their search for food will bring them closer to island human activity … GWS use undersea markers’ like shoals-reefs-islands as territorial food cruising lanes – with enough of them around it will entrench breeding gettogether haunts within the grey whales’ route.

          • Trinidad A. Williams

            I truly apologize to Mark Barville for diverting-digressing the article’s anatomy of his encounter with the GWS; my commenting has exposed his related experience to trivial assumptions’ …

        • Mark Barville

          To ms,

          Sonny was my spearfishing mentor 29 years ago. He asked me to talk about my experience with the GWS during his presentation for the Kona Historical Society.

          The meeting was to run from 5:30 – 7 PM. Sonny asked me to come up at 7:09 PM. I felt pretty uncomfortable about making folks stay even later, and I made my talk as concise and pertinent to the meeting as possible. I would have loved questions, but that just wasn’t the time. I was back in my seat at 7:18.

          Everything I have shared about my experience is true. I would be happy to answer your questions and clarify anything I’ve said. You can contact me through Baron Sekiya.

          Thank you,

          Mark Barville
          Kona

  • KKD

    Just REALLY releived that Mark made it back in without injury. I guess we can all comment on what he, we, would’ve, could’ve or should’ve done. But lets face it….Mark is here because of actions he took at “that moment”. I don’t think we REALLY ever know what we will do in a particular situation until we are faced with it. And then it’s pretty much, “do what you gotta do”. Just my 2 cents. :)

    • John

      Crazy story man. The only thing that would make me question the species of shark, is that Great Whites don’t have nictitating membranes to protect their eyes. Other than that it sounds like a freaky encounter.

      • opae

        True, no nictitating membrane, but upon attack they do roll their eyes back to protect their pupils which could easily be mistaken for a membrane.

      • Rusty

        Great White Sharks do not have a Nictitating Membrane, which helps some species of sharks better protect their eyes while attacking. To protect its eyes from injury, the Great Whites have no recourse but to roll its eyes tailward in their sockets just before they strike their prey. Perhaps this is what he saw?

  • Aaron Braaten

    It was my family there, Nella Lee was my Great Aunt. Two of the people that were there are my father David, and his brother, my uncle, Craig. I think that you are right about Nella being there, it seems right for her. Thanks for the story!

    • Trinidad A. Williams

      Aloha Aaron ~ not sure if you’re from Isabel’s lineage – another Great Aunt or your Grandmother … I’m most certain my sister Nella was there … everything about that day was planned – it was decided to change the location of the ashes scattering to the location where this event happened – creating the life-saving events that helped Mark Barville through his ordeal … Nella comes’ from a family that spear-dived in the old customs – she has served as a catch bag-girl when called upon by our Popo-man or brother Toy or Brother-in-law Mac Magsayo … helping to bring in the fresh catch so they could stay out longer without fresh catch attracting predator fish. The marvelous aspect to this happening is ~ those that participated in assisting Mark Barville are from this same lineage of spearfishing ohana (family) … it definitely smacks’ of Nella’s presence …

      I’m so glad your Dad and Uncle got to meet part of Nella’s family – see the island style that she was born into … hoping they will bring back wonderful-exciting memories of Hawai’i they’ve encountered to share with those in Washington who remember her …

      • Aaron Braaten

        Isabel was also my Great Aunt, Virginia is my Grandmother, one of the youngest of the brothers and sisters, although I do believe Howard was the baby. Isabel and my Grandmother both married Braaten boys, so there are a few confusing blood lines here and there. Good to hear from another side of the family! If I ever make it back to Hawaii I’ll have to look some of you up ;)

        • Trinidad A. Williams

          Aaron ~ I did meet your Grandmother – lovely young woman – yes, Howard was the youngest – doted on by his siblings’ – I got to meet them all when I went to visit in 1957 …
          Just know that Nella’s siblings will welcome the Braatens’- Lees’ to Hawai’i Nei … take good care ~ Aloha Nui Loa
          Trinidad A. Williams

  • Mark Barville

    I stand corrected about the “nictitating membrane”. I didn’t know that. What I saw was the shark rolling its eyes backward. It was a weird sight, and probably the most scary behavior (because it signaled the shark’s intention to have a taste of me).

    Also, I have learned that Great White Sharks get these kinds of injuries during breeding. In a number of Google searches on GWS, I have come across a lot of photos of the kinds of injuries and wounds I saw.

    It would have been impossible to give the GWS the fish. The kui I use is a 3/8 metal shaft about 10 inches long. I have connected to 600 pound hard mamoi mono, and then clip that on to my buoy. The kui went through the head of the awa. The GWS was trying to swallow the awa whole, head first, so the kui was probably poking it in the throat, as I only saw the tail sticking out, and about 1 foot of the hard mono stretched through the left side of its mouth, thereby constantly getting hit by my heavy float. It didn’t seem to comprehend why it couldn’t swallow the awa, almost as though it was unaware of the 600 test mono. So it was just hanging in the water, slowly moving its head left and right, then getting bonked by the buoy. When it saw me, it opened its mouth and released the fish (which is in a photo above), and then approached me.

    Anyway, I wasn’t trying to save my fish, I was trying to survive by unclipping my gun in order to use it to keep the shark away from me, then I was moving away from the shark toward the shore, while the shark stayed next to me. It was very uncomfortable.

    I’m sure that it was the initial shot on the awa that may have invited the GWS. The awa put up a wild and crazy fight, and it bled a lot. Many fish carcasses are left in the deep waters outside of the Honokohau Harbor, and I suspect the GWS will be able to feast on these.

    Thank you,

    Mark

    • Trinidad A. Williams

      Dear Mark Barville:

      I thank you for acknowledging Nella – its’ so hard to explain the circustances’ that occurred for how all these persons would be “right there with you” at that momentous time … I concur my sister Nella had everything to do with their presence on that “cliff” … I find it appropo an honor for her to be present in her last impressive earthy journey to one as yours’ – who respects the ocean and the life in it … contrary to comments’ … your gift’s of the awa and tako the GWS wanted to steal away – was appropriate to the family that heeded Nella’s wish to be “there” for you … for this was not an “akua” of Hawaiian waters’ to pay “makana” (gift) to … not a practice to encourage a predator to conceive in its’ primordial senses …

      As I’m starting to get the lines’ on the day I also find that Lynnette Stevens is your wife’s patient at Kaiser – and saw her earlier in the day ~ her brother Curtis DeLima kept you in his camera sights’ until you alighted on shore – Nella’s people had the rescue and ER teams on line to come and tend to you and the Scuba divers – loaned you the phone to speak to media and whomever you wanted to contact … such a wondrous example of life’s karmic positive intentions cannot be discounted as chance.

      I hope you all get to talk story on this exceptional day – don’t know what happened to decorum – I would have dragged you home – celebrate- enjoy the “catch” so meritoriously earned – and shared with you the closure to a very spirited day!

      Mahalo,
      Trinidad A. Williams

  • http://www.hawaii247.com Baron

    I added a photograph of the end of the kui (stringer) line belonging to Mark with the metal piece he comments on.

    I ran my fingers along the kui’s very strong monofilament line and it’s smooth from the metal piece up until the last maybe six inches where the line has been abraded from rubbing against the shark’s teeth.

  • Taco

    Thanks Mark for clearing that up and I am sure you are right about getting a harbor meal. Personally I hope we are not getting a breeding population moving into our waters with the weather changes.

  • Dirk

    An incredible story. My only thoughts are that of the saftey of Mark and the condition of the Great White. It appears Mark gained a once in a lifetime dive, with valuable insite. The Great White while looking injured,we hope is alright. My thoughts on the injuries, it sounds as Mark describes the injuries as cuts and deep gashes along the sides and fins, perhaps the injuries were from two whites mating? Just a speculation, but injuries seem consistant with data that has been collected. Either way, I’m glad Mark is safe.

    Dirk R.

  • http://aol Bob Ballew

    Hi Mark, welcome to the big feesh club! Same size as the one that almost got me at Catalina…:)…moved from RPV to Long Beach..miss having you come by the house to show off those wsb catches…guys talk a lot of crap but, it changes real fast when they face off one of the jumbos in person and up close….:) Best wishes on no more encounters, Bob and Sheryl Ballew

  • Loida E.

    Hi Mark! (smile)

    Auntie Terri and Rob told me last Tuesday about what happened. That they saw the shark and you out there after spreading Auntie Nella’s ashes and they were shouting with all their might to let you and the others know!

    Glad you are safe and your wife and children still have a you in their lives. Take care and be extra careful now that you know what’s out there.

  • steve button

    They’re mostly there to breed…the one you saw sounds like a female just finished a probable mating session…maybe you were in the wrong area at the wrong time..why not eat the fish??

  • steve button

    An 18 pound awa is a small appetizer for a 15-16 foot great white weighing somewhere between 1500-2500 pounds..

 

 

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