Swimming in great white shark territory

Photo. Steve Hathaway.

Shark sightings seemed to come in thick and fast last year for Auckland, Coromandel and Tauranga.

In January, a 19-year-old woman was attacked and killed by what was suspected to be a great white shark at the holiday beach of Bowentown in the Western Bay of Plenty.

Another warm summer is on the cards and it’s part of the reason we can expect a similar scenario this year – humans and sharks mixing in the same space, with great white numbers increasing thanks to the protection they now enjoy.

Today The Detail's Jessie Chiang looks at why Bowentown locals are increasingly concerned about the type of shark they're encountering.

Stu Curd is the commodore at the Bowentown Boating and Sport Fishing Club and has lived permanently in the area for the last 20 years.

"Five years ago, someone says there was a great white in the harbour and I thought, 'oh no, they're just talking rubbish'; now the stories are twice weekly about someone catching or seeing a white," he says.

He believes the apex predators are coming into the harbour because that's where the fish are.

Long-time resident Pete Rogers had his own encounter with a great white recently when it fully breached from the water within two to three metres from his boat.

He says everyone he knows who has gone fishing recently has come across a great white.

"My daughter and her partner, about four or five weeks ago ... they've got a tinny and they were in the harbour and one jumped a little further away from the boat but they had our little grandson on board, a six-year-old. They reckon it was pretty scary," he says.

The death of Kaelah Marlow from a shark attack this year is front and centre of everyone's concerns and locals say they don't want a repeat.

Tairua-based shark scientist Dr Riley Elliott believes Marlow died from a great white bite.

He has studied footage of sharks in the area last summer and identified 15 individual great whites around Bowentown.

"A great white to pop up here (in the Coromandel), I was like 'woah', my specialty just came into my backyard," he says.

"Never have we seen (great whites) in the eastern harbours, where you go to swim in the summer kind of beaches."

Alarmed, last December he applied for a permit from the Department of Conservation to tag great whites in the area to better track their movements and understand why they seemed to be setting up shop off Bowentown.

Eleven months on, Dr Elliott is still waiting for that permit to be approved and he speaks about the frustration of the process.

"I basically am in a real conundrum because I have patiently and proactively waited because I want to respect, look, it's a bureaucratic department, things take time," he says.

"My greatest fear is that someone gets bit, a shark gets killed or worst case scenario, a person dies."

The Department of Conservation says it's in ongoing conversations with Dr Elliott.

DOC says it advised him that his earlier proposals weren't fit for purpose and could allow for instances where the animal could be injured.

It suggested amendments for him to consider for the application to be progressed.


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