Great White sightings near Motuotau Island

A great white shark. Photo, Steve Hathaway

Motuotau/Rabbit Island may have a new resident.

A great white shark was spotted near Motuotau Island on Friday, May 29, which was the second confirmed sighting in the area that same week, according to Dive Zone Tauranga.

Shark scientist Mel Kellett says because the sightings were reported within days of each other, it’s likely the same shark has been spending more time in the area.

Other unconfirmed reports of shark activity in the area have occurred since the initial two sightings.

Mel says great white visits to locations like Motuotau are less common than species like the bronze whaler, but not unheard of.

“There was a sighting of a great white at the Mount in January 2017, and we’ve also had sightings in the Bowentown end of Northern Tauranga Harbour over previous summers.

“We don’t know a lot about the size or dynamic of the white shark population here in the Bay of Plenty as there just hasn’t been any study on it.

“Like many shark species in the area, our current knowledge is based off sighting reports from groups such as fishermen, divers and traditional knowledge from iwi.

“This information is hugely valuable, but only gives us a small glimpse into the bigger picture, which is important to understand with the pressures the marine environment is increasingly facing.”

Mel says the estimated length of the shark sighted was about 4m, so it’s likely to be a sub-adult female or sub-adult to adult age male. As a comparison, an adult female great white is a similar length to a new born humpback whale, which is around 4.5m.

She says the sightings are a positive sign for the marine ecosystem.

“Sharks play a very important role in maintaining the structure of marine communities.

“They do this directly though consuming prey items and indirectly through fear and intimidation of species lower down in the food web.  Such activity helps to maintain diversity within the food web which increases the system’s ability to tolerate disturbances, whether they’re manmade or naturally occurring events.”

Mel says according to reports, there were a number of people surfing around Motuotau at the time of the initial sighting.

“Sharks aren’t the man-eating monsters movies such as Jaws made them out to be. But, they are top predators within their environment and that needs to be respected.

“If someone finds they’re in the water with a shark, it’s advised that they respect its space, and slowly and calmly remove them self from the water.”

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