Up close to sharp teeth

By Chloe Johnson

Plenty of sharks around New Zealand but not enough knowledge, says researcher

Riley Elliott holds the dorsal fin of a blue shark at the Bay of Islands. Photo / Mike Bhana
Riley Elliott holds the dorsal fin of a blue shark at the Bay of Islands. Photo / Mike Bhana

If sharks make you shudder, you might want to peek through your hands.

Just weeks after a shark attack killed Muriwai man Adam Strange, a researcher has been out swimming unprotected - and hand feeding - some of the world's most dangerous sharks.

Shark expert Riley Elliott, 27, has spent the past six months tagging sharks with a satellite tracker off the coast of the Bay of Islands and the Coromandel Peninsula.

Elliott is researching migration and habitats of blue sharks for his PhD at the University of Auckland.

He also invites his friends who have never encountered sharks before to overcome the common fear of sharks. "Everyone is scared. To break that fear, you need to teach people they aren't just going to eat you. That fear usually turns into awe and fascination," Elliott said.

Last week he was joined by Tom Bromhead, 26, and cameraman Mike Bhana, 50, who captured the experience with mako and blue sharks at Hahei. The mako is classified as one of the five most dangerous sharks in the world alongside great whites, bull sharks and tiger sharks.

"The blue sharks are very docile so they come over and I hand feed them and grab them by the nose which puts them into a (docile) state," Elliott said.

"The makos are a bit more dangerous so you have a little stick in case they come too close because you don't want to put your hand out to that gaping mouth of teeth."

Elliott, who has also free-dived with great whites in South Africa, said there was a lack of shark research in New Zealand.

"I wanted to bring shark research to New Zealand because we have plenty of them but no one knows anything, and the recent shark attack at Muriwai highlighted that."

Strange, 46, was killed in an attack by two sharks while swimming off Muriwai Beach on February 27.

Bromhead, who has never encountered sharks previously, said he was initially nervous being in the water with the predators.

"My heart was pounding. It was a bit intimidating," Bromhead said. "But it was a lot of fun and I realised sharks aren't all bad."

• Photographs taken by Adam Strange will go on public display later this month. Before his death, the award-winning filmmaker had been invited to take part in the Muriwai Arts Group exhibition Homecoming. Forty Muriwai artists are involved in the exhibition at the Muriwai Surf Club from April 13 to 21.

- Herald on Sunday

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