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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Maui man pledges caution after bite from sea creature

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

KULA, Maui — Was it a barracuda? An eel? A shark?

Don Keener will never know. What he does know is this: His days of swimming in murky nearshore waters are over.

"I'm going to be very cautious," said Keener, 56, from Kula, Maui, who suffered a 6-inch gash along his left forearm Friday at Honolua Bay.

Keener, his arm wrapped in bandages after receiving 40 stitches at the Maui Memorial Medical Center emergency room, was feeling a lot better yesterday. But he winced when he recalled the "very excruciating" moment that occurred at 12:20 p.m., just after plunging into cloudy knee-deep water to snorkel.

"It happened so fast," said Keener, who had gone snorkeling at the popular swimming area and state marine sanctuary the day before under similar conditions. "Nobody saw anything."

Keener, his arm bleeding, was helped ashore by a friend. A pair of vacationing Canadian emergency medical technicians wrapped his arm with a sarong and towel, and he was driven to Napili to meet paramedics.

In addition to a deep gash that exposed muscle and bone, teeth marks were left around his forearm. While someone at the scene said they saw a reef shark there earlier in the day, Keener said a paramedic and his emergency-room doctor suspected he was bitten by a barracuda.

The barracuda, or kaku, which has sharp, jagged teeth, is known to inhabit open waters and bay areas in the shadows. They have been known to go after humans, but it's rare.

John Naughton, National Marine Fisheries Service biologist, said some barracuda victims reportedly wore jewelry, and a theory says that in murky water the predator may mistake shiny objects for the flash of fish scales on prey.

Keener said he wasn't wearing anything shiny.

"I didn't have any jewelry or anything. But I did have white skin," he said, laughing.

Reach Timothy Hurley at (808) 244-4880 or thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com.