Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Shark attack: Beach safety review

A review of beach safety policies will be conducted in the wake of yesterday's horror Muriwai Beach shark attack, but Australia-style shark nets have been ruled out.

Adam Strange, 46, was savaged by a shark, thought to be a 3.5m great white, while swimming at the popular beach west of Auckland just before 1.30pm.

The death of the popular beachgoer and TV commercial director has been mourned at the tight-knit beach community today, and the local beach will remain closed until Saturday while the killer shark is being hunted.

Muriwai Surf Lifesaving Club is reviewing what happened and working out how such a tragedy can be avoided in future.

Club chairman Tim Jago said the lifeguards, many of them veterans who have rescued at the beach for many years, gathered late yesterday to go through all information available - "who did what and how it all unfolded".

After a critical incident stress debriefing, they also made contact with colleagues at Surf Life Saving NSW - highly experienced in dealing with shark encounters - who sent through their shark incident operating policy.

It confirmed that the Muriwai response went by the book, but Mr Jago accepted there will be lessons to be learnt.

"We're always reviewing out policies, and from this incident, our colleagues internationally will want to know what we did."

Shark attacks were rare, he stressed, with just 12 fatal shark attacks in New Zealand waters since 1852. He ruled out the introduction of shark nets, which he described as being impractical and an overreaction.

"It's not a solution here," he said. "We've had a one-off event. We don't actually have a problem."

The Australia nets system, which feature at almost every popular swimming beach, amounted to "a placebo effect" and simply offered beachgoers peace of mind, he said.

"The fact of the matter is they find as many [sharks] on the inside as they do on the outside."

Shark nets, paid for by the New South Wales (NSW) Government, were erected at 51 beaches between Newcastle and Wollongong for this summer.

Bondi beach, in Sydney, has the nets in action all year round.

Bondi mayor Sally Betts says the nets, coupled with professional lifeguards, jet-ski patrols, raised towers, and aerial surveillance, have slashed attacks on the incredibly busy beach, where 50,000 people flocked this New Year's Day.

"They definitely work," she told APNZ today.

"We've been doing nets for so many years and it gives us a certain level of confidence."

Manager of Bondi's team of lifeguards, Scott Field said he wouldn't be without the nets.

They don't stretch from the seafloor to the surface, and so allow other marine life to move about freely.

They don't even stop sharks from coming into the bay. "But, in my experience, they greatly reduce the likelihood of an attack," he said.

When a shark is spotted, the lifeguards follow strict protocols which vary, depending on the validity of the report.

It can mean a teeming beach has to be urgently evacuated.

"You just do what you have to do," Mr Field said.

"It's something we take very seriously and, fortunately, shark attacks aren't too common for our beaches."

The NSW Department of Primary Industries constantly updates its "Shark Smart" information.

The best place to swim, they say, is always between the flags where lifesavers monitor all manner of risks and maximise swimmer safety.

They also say not to swim too far from shore, and to avoid swimming and surfing in dark or twilight hours, as well as areas used by recreational or commercial fishers.

Mr Field said they constantly review their shark protocols, and urged Muriwai colleagues to do the same.

"Your situation is different to ours, so I'm not saying what we do would work everywhere, but I would want to be looking after my community and review the processes currently in place."

Dunedin beaches introduced nets in 1969 after a spate of shark attacks, and in the early 1970s were catching around six great whites a year.

They remained in place at St Clair, St Kilda and Brighton beaches until being phased out in 2004, and have not been used since, with many experts questioning their effectiveness.

BEACH USE TODAY

Visitors were scarce at Bethells Beach, about 3km south of Muriwai, today.

Four surfers, undeterred by the tragedy, took to the large swell.

One of them, who only gave his first name, Tony, said there were usually many more surfers out when the waves were this good.

"It's sad but, you know, people die on the roads every day. Should you stop driving? I was a bit wary but the waves were good so I think he [Adam Strange] probably would have wanted that."

Friends Charlie Cartwright, Aaron Fell and Joseph Wilson had a quick dip, but didn't want to go deeper than chest-height because of the news of the shark.

"We thought because the waves were stirring up water the shark wouldn't want to come in that close ... but we're just guessing," Mr Cartwright said.

"I was looking for sharks the whole time," Mr Fell added.

A group of Henderson Intermediate students, some of them eagerly chatting about the shark attack, were on a school trip at the beach today, but would only be swimming in the safety of the lagoon.

Elise Henry, 12, said she would be reluctant to swim in the sea at the moment because of what had happened.

"If they actually knew that there were no sharks around here, then yes, I would - in the safe areas."

Kent Hyland said he was more concerned about rips than sharks.

"You only go out so far anyway. Sharks don't come into the beach, eh."

- APNZ

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