John Weekes

John Weekes is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Wellington.

Island-hopping great white shark heading home

Grim is a 3m long 9-year-old juvenile great white shark who has been on a tropical journey. Photo / Doug Sherring
Grim is a 3m long 9-year-old juvenile great white shark who has been on a tropical journey. Photo / Doug Sherring

A great white shark is heading back to New Zealand waters after an epic tropical voyage.

"He's the first shark we've tagged for more than 12 months," said marine scientist Clinton Duffy.

"We tagged him at Stewart Island in March last year and that year he travelled to Fiji on his tropical migration."

Nicknamed Grim, the 3m juvenile slipped off the radar for four months, then began transmitting again near Tonga.

Duffy said he caught another long-awaited signal from Grim earlier this month.

"He was over the Louisville Seamount chain, northeast of New Zealand, so he's on his way home again." Grim had visited Fiji, Tonga and Niue.

Duffy believed the shark was about 9 years old, some way off raising a family.

Duffy, from the Department of Conservation, said Grim may stop by Auckland. "It's possible he could end up here. But it looks like he's heading for Stewart Island."

He thought Grim would probably gather with other great whites in the deep south.

"I wouldn't exactly describe them as best friends, but certainly at the aggregate sites they interact a lot."

According to new research, every living shark could add more than $2.5 million to the economy over its lifetime.

University of Otago marine ecologist Stephen Wing said shark-based tourism was a potential pot of gold for the economy.

He said the latest figures on sharks, collated by scientists for a UN conference on migratory species this week, mirrored previous studies.

"Ecologists have made some of these calculations about the value of ecosystem services and the value of clean natural environments," Wing said. "When you put them in dollar terms, they're huge."

Duffy said savvy eco-tourism operators had sprung up in Gisborne and the Poor Knights Islands to give people shark experiences, including free-diving with sharks.

"It's increasingly popular in New Zealand. It doesn't have to be in a cage." Duffy said overseas research showed that when big shark numbers dropped, smaller sharks thrived, feeding on some fish popular with recreational fishers.

In New Zealand, overfishing of the gummy shark - the "fish and chips shark" - was blamed as the reason for paddle crabs overrunning swimming beaches.

- Herald on Sunday

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