Diver encounters great white shark off Kona shore

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

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 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

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

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, 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.