Shark tales are circling on the east coast, leaving fishers and surfers questioning whether they are seeing a trend in greater numbers of encounters.

Locals know that shark sightings are a regular feature of surfing and diving on the Coromandel coast.

Shark researcher, TV host and advocate Riley Elliot is at home with sharks under the water but says when he encountered a 3 metre shark on his surfboard he gave it right of way. Photo / Amber Jones
Shark researcher, TV host and advocate Riley Elliot is at home with sharks under the water but says when he encountered a 3 metre shark on his surfboard he gave it right of way. Photo / Amber Jones

But those in Pauanui are getting picky about surf conditions after a 3m bronze whaler seems to have moved into the neighbourhood on the Pauanui-Tairua Bar.

"I don't know how to gauge the weight of it but it's at least 150kg - it's got bigger shoulders than me and it's boisterous and inquisitive," said Jamie McCaw, a Pauanui local who got too close for comfort in recent days.

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Jamie was chatting with an Aussie surfer on an inside bank at the break when two of three surfers further out came paddling in "with eyeballs like saucers". Within five minutes a third guy swiftly paddled in and was gone.

"I caught a wave and then I saw the other guy stroking to the beach as fast as he could. I saw this thing jump and do a half turn in the air and land on his back. Even from 200m away it was a big fish."

Jamie has regularly surfed with small bronze whaler sharks on the Bar and nearby breaks for years but was surprised by the size of this one.

"It would have chugged past 20 swimmers and 10 surfers, it knows what's going on and knows we're not on the menu. But I thought, 'if he is that big and wants this zone - he can have it'."

Shark researcher, TV host and advocate Riley Elliot lives in neighbouring Tairua with his marine photographer fiance Amber Jones, and swims with sharks often.

However, they decided to paddle to shore on Sunday when a large animal cruised between the couple as they sat on their boards on the bar.

"I saw the shark checking me out. Amber was like 'are we cool?'.

"She's got in the water with some of the biggest mako sharks I've ever seen and we actively swim with sharks all around the world. I've never once felt fear swimming with them.

Riley Elliot regularly swims with sharks as part of his research. Photo / Amber Jones
Riley Elliot regularly swims with sharks as part of his research. Photo / Amber Jones

"I know my game underwater, but all of a sudden I was playing a different game. As a surfer you have no control. I was scared for 10 seconds there, and actually, it's ok to be afraid."

Riley suggested the couple move out of the sandy water to the clearer depths.

"You can improve the situation by doing what I did. But I didn't have my super powers - I didn't have my mask on and I couldn't engage with them, and ultimately I decided to go in.

"That's respecting a wild animal in its domain."

An advocate for shark welfare, he gets close to sharks if he can do so on good terms. He says surfing is not the best way to do this.

"They're a very intuitive shark and they disappear usually quite quickly but that doesn't mean it isn't scary when you see one.

"When surfing, you have no chance of making eye contact. You are also floating on the surface, and often in water with poor visibility."

Tim Simons owns Dutchy's Dive Shop in Tairua and is a keen spear fisherman. In the last two weeks, he's had close encounters with a hammerhead, bronze whalers and mako sharks.

Lots of shark tales are told in his store, and his own most exciting one recently was while spear diving with two friends at the Sugarloaf rocks off the Aldermen Islands, 20km east of Tairua.

"About five sharks came up to check us out. You can tell when they're slow moving and relaxed that they're ok. We kept swimming around and at one point we counted 12 bronzies.

"We behaved accordingly and got out. It's only this summer that I've seen so many. You often see them at certain spots, but why they're hanging around in packs, I'm not sure."

He says divers often only see sharks when they have shot a fish or put burley in the water. The Tairua Bar is close to a wharf where people often dump fish frames.

Tim sells boat floats for divers to use so their catch and the blood is kept out of the water as they dive. "The key thing is to help people stay safe. You shouldn't swim with fish in your hands when you know there's a shark there.

"Sharks are smart. They don't put themselves in harm's way. But it's important to dive in pairs so you can watch each other's back."

There have been no incidents reported, but Riley says bronze whalers can be opportunistic.

"If you see a shark and you yell that dinner bell out as loud as you can, expect a shark to come. Divers should learn how to shoot more accurately or maybe learn some shark behaviour, but don't blame the shark because you shoot and play a fish for 10 minutes or more. It's going to get competitive. When there's four or more sharks and you can't look at them all, that's a scary situation."

Whether the sightings are due to more of us playing in the sea or an actual increase in shark numbers, "Shark Man" Riley Elliot says sharks are a sign of a healthy ecosystem and knows what he wants to publicise.

"If we are seeing more bronze whalers, causing more to overlap with our recreation, you have to ask yourself the question, are we going to act like Australia and kill wildlife so we can play? Or are we going to teach ourselves how to understand the environment and co-exist with it?"