Swimmers flee Ohope waters after 2m bronze whaler shark spotted

The shark was spotted close to shore. Photo / Louis Klaassen
The shark was spotted close to shore. Photo / Louis Klaassen

A shark sighting abruptly ended swimming at Ohope Top 10 Holiday Park yesterday for the second time in six days.

Whakatane Beacon photographer Louis Klaassen photographed what many believed was a bronze whaler about 3.30pm. The shark, more than 2m long, was swimming in breaking waves about 15m from shore.

Whakatane Surf Lifesaving Club lifeguard Brad Wiley said the beach would probably be closed for the rest of the day, the Whakatane Beacon reported.

The same section of beach was closed on December 29, again after a bronze whaler was spotted near swimmers.

Surf club public relations officer Malcolm Rowson said the closure was a standard precaution and the beach was closed for an hour.

Courtney McConkey, of Ohope Top 10 Holiday Park, said shark sightings happened in the area occasionally and people didn't seem to be alarmed by the latest few.

Since last week's sighting, people have taken to social media to spread the word about sharks they have seen.

Whakatane resident Craig Robinson said his family had a close encounter with one of the predators.

"My daughter and her mates were swimming across from [the Waterways subdivision] on Monday and saw a shark. Three [of the children] ran out screaming and my kid started laughing because she thought it was driftwood," he said.

Ohope resident Nyre Grace Swainson said sharks were a fishing trophy for some.

"There's been a couple in Ohiwa harbour. Two guys caught one last week while my partner was fishing. They had been trying to catch them the previous day too. My kids were amazed to see one about 3m long," she said.

Whakatane resident Mereana Rameka saw one at the Port Ohope wharf last week.

"We went for a night fish and it was swimming around the wharf for about an hour. It was about 2-3m long, [a] pretty big one. Scary thing was that there were people swimming there when we turned up," she said.

Not everyone is alarmed, though. KG Kayaks owner Kenny McCracken said sightings of bronze whalers, also known as the New Zealand whaler, or copper shark, were common in the harbour.

"There's bronze whalers in the harbour year-round," he said.

McCracken, who takes many kayak excursions on the harbour, said in his experience the bronze whaler was no threat to humans.

"They're not interested. In all the time I've been kayaking I've never even seen one come close to a kayak," he said.

Though the shark had been known to approach the shoreline, he said they were not looking for human prey.

"Sometimes the sharks come into the shallows to feed and people get excited because they watch too many movies.

"These sharks couldn't give a stuff about people," he said.

McCracken said there were more dangerous threats in the water than bronze whalers.

"Stingrays are a different matter," he said.

There has been only one confirmed death in New Zealand associated with bronze whalers but it was later discovered the kikller was actually a white pointer.

In 2013, Muriwai resident Adam Strange died after he swam into a shark feeding frenzy. He was initially attacked by a bronze whaler and sustained non-life threatening injuries. However, within two minutes a white pointer attacked, killing him.

Bronze whalers reach more than 3m in length and weigh around 300kg. It is a fast, powerful swimmer equipped with long, serrated teeth. It isn't generally aggressive towards humans but has been known to harass spear fishermen.

- Whakatane Beacon

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