A shark expert is warning divers and swimmers to be wary in Whangarei waters after a crayfish diver's close encounter with a 5.5m great white.

Department of Conservation marine scientist Clinton Duffy said a credible witness had given a detailed description of what was "definitely a great white shark, in excess of 5.5 m long (it was longer and wider - pectoral fin tip to pectoral fin tip - than their 5.5 m boat)".

The diver was off Peach Cove, near the entrance to Whangarei Harbour, last Thursday when he encountered the shark.

"The advice to the public is that they should be aware that sharks can be present in the area at any time; swimmers should avoid areas where bait fish are concentrated and areas where birds and dolphins are feeding.

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"If divers encounter a great white they should try to find shelter, assess its behaviour and once it has departed either swim to shore along the bottom or try to surface directly under the hull of the boat so as to minimise the amount of time they are silhouetted against the surface."

Duffy also reminded people that great whites were a protected species.

He was keen to hear of any sightings, in the hope the shark could be satellite tagged, or photographed.

Call (09) 470 3300 if you can help.