Great white shark a Whangarei first

By Mikaela Collins -

While a close encounter with a great white shark proved exciting for a group of Whangarei anglers, the footage of the event has also excited a shark expert who says it is the first documented sighting of the species in the Whangarei Heads he has seen.

Department of Conservation shark expert Clinton Duffy has received regular reports of great white sharks off Whangarei Heads in the past five years, but Whangarei man Hamish Clarke's footage of his close encounter with a great white while fishing near "The Frenchman" near the Whangarei Harbour entrance is the first bit of "concrete evidence" Mr Duffy has seen.

The shark was in an area close to scallop beds and popular with fishers and divers.

"Oh it's always exciting. I would have loved to have seen underwater footage of it because I keep a database of them identified from their colour pattern and the shape of the dorsal fin.

"I've had about half a dozen reports of sightings of great whites off Whangarei Heads and never doubted them but it's quite nice to have it confirmed," Mr Duffy said.

Mr Clarke was getting live bait on Saturday morning for the Beach and Boat competition when the shark swam towards the 5.7m boat. He captured the moment on video and it has since had 74,600 views on Facebook. The footage shows the shark slowly swimming around the boat, and nosing the outboard motor.

Mr Duffy said it's "absolutely" normal behaviour for great whites to be curious.

"It would've smelt the burley and followed it and found the boat," he said.

"It's not uncommon for them to check objects on the surface of the water, even without burley."

The shark was about 3.5m, an average size for a male great white shark according to Mr Duffy. He said it's not common for people to have similar encounters with great whites, but he does get regular reports of the species every year.

"If you do spot one, they're a protected species so you should not harm the shark. Don't lean over the boat and get your mates to hold you while you take a picture - I've seen that done before. And don't dangle your arms and legs off the boat. It didn't look aggressive, it looked pretty calm but it's all common sense," he said.

Mr Clarke said his encounter wasn't "too scary as the boat was bigger" but said it was a bit frightening to know he had free dived around the area before.

"It was a bit scary knowing the shark was exactly where we were," he said.

He said won't be freediving again "for a few weeks".

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