Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Rare shark with 12 pups found at Muriwai

Oceanic whitetips usually live near the equator and have only rarely been seen in NZ waters. The shark was found to have 12 babies inside. Photo / Sumeet Satishwar
Oceanic whitetips usually live near the equator and have only rarely been seen in NZ waters. The shark was found to have 12 babies inside. Photo / Sumeet Satishwar

A rare shark found washed up on Muriwai Beach yesterday is being described as an important find for marine scientists.

The 2.6m oceanic whitetip shark, which was heavily pregnant, usually lives in warm waters near the equator and is the only shark of her species known to have been found here.

The shark and six almost full-term pups removed from her belly have been taken to Auckland Museum, where they will be preserved for research. A further six pups were washed away before they could be retrieved.

Museum natural sciences boss Tom Trnski said the shark would be the only one of her species in any museum in the country. Because of the chemicals involved, it would not be safe to put her on public display, but she could be seen by appointment.

"She will be available for research for hundreds of years."

Department of Conservation shark biologist Clint Duffy rushed to Muriwai when he heard a shark had washed up - and couldn't believe his eyes when he saw it was an oceanic whitetip.

"I was speechless for a little while. It's quite exceptional. They are very, very rare in New Zealand waters."

Only a few had been seen in the water, and all were on the eastern coast of the country. The shark looked otherwise healthy and he did not know how she died, but it may have been from thermal shock caused by cold water, Duffy said.

Oceanic whitetip sharks were once common in equatorial waters, but had been hit hard by the shark finning industry and were considered endangered.

The man-eaters are protected in New Zealand.

The shark was blessed by local iwi members before being removed and he was pleased she would continue to be admired, Duffy said. "She's very special."

Muriwai Beach was the scene of the first fatal shark attack in almost 40 years years in February. Muriwai-based husband and father Adam Strange died after he was attacked by a great white and bronze whalers.

- Herald on Sunday

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