Why Kiwis shouldn't fear shark attacks

By Simon Chapman

New Zealanders shouldn't be scared of shark attacks says Malcom Francis, Principal Scientist for the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere Research (NIWA). Photo / 123rf.com
New Zealanders shouldn't be scared of shark attacks says Malcom Francis, Principal Scientist for the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere Research (NIWA). Photo / 123rf.com

New Zealanders shouldn't be scared of shark attacks says Malcom Francis, Principal Scientist for the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere Research (NIWA).

Shark attacks are rare in New Zealand, with the last official fatal attack at Auckland's Muriwai Beach in 2013.

Between 2014 and 2017 six people died in Australian waters. Earlier this week a 17-year-old woman was killed off the coast of West Australia. However, that shouldn't deter Kiwis from getting in the water.

"It's miniscule compared to all the other factors," Francis said. "Just getting in your car to drive to the beach is much more dangerous.

Read more:
Fatal shark attacks that shocked New Zealand

Shark experts and marine scientist like Clinton Duffey have recorded attacks in New Zealand since 1852.

It is estimated there have been 50 attacks in New Zealand waters, which pales in comparison to the United States of America with over 1300 reported attacks and Australia with 607.

"I think people realise the ocean is where the sharks live and we go into it and should accept the risk that there may be - small as it is when you look at those statistics. That chance of being attacked by a shark is extremely tiny."

Great white sharks are protected under the Wildlife Act meaning hunting, killing, or injuring sharks is illegal. Francis said a perception shift away from sharks being killers is good news for the species as regulations and legislation recongnise sharks as being vulnerable.

"The human threats to sharks are perceived as being important now. That's led to the banning of shark finning and protection of great white sharks plus a number of other shark species.

"I've seen over the last few decades a shift in perception towards sharks being the victims, if anything, rather than the monster they used to be seen as."

Sharks species shuttle between countries meaning population figures around New Zealand are hard to calculate. 10-years of research between 2005 and 2014 saw 95 great white sharks tagged in New Zealand waters.

Sharks travel as far south as the sub-Antarctic and as far north as the tropics Sharks. They are also known travel to tropical waters near Australia in winter and return to New Zealand in summer when the waters are warm.

Great white sharks can be found anywhere around the country, but are commonly found near Stewart Island, the Chatham Islands and closer to the mainland around Southland and Otago.

"Juvenile sharks travel all around New Zealand, but we see a lot of small sharks in the big harbours. Adult white sharks can occur anywhere around New Zealand, although they seem to prefer where there are seal colonies on the islands."

- NZ Herald

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