A woman has died after being mauled by a shark at Waihī Beach, despite desperate first aid provided on the beach.
It is understood the woman was dragged from the water alive and paramedics administered CPR on the beach to no avail.
Western Bay of Plenty Katikati-Waihi Beach ward councillor Anne Henry believes the attack happened at the Bowentown end of the beach.
Western Bay of Plenty mayor Garry Webber said the death was an "awful situation".
Waihī Beach is a holiday destination for Kiwis, Webber says, with its population swelling at this time of year from about 4000 people up to about 20,000.
He has lived in the Bay of Plenty area permanently since 1998 and can't ever remember a shark attack in the region.
"When these things happen your thoughts immediately go to the family, and particularly the responders, the coastguard, the ambulance, air rescue helicopter, who had to attend. You really feel for them."
Shark expert: Great white sharks in the area
Shark scientist Riley Elliott says it's hard to speculate what species of shark attacked the woman without all the facts.
However, there has been evidence of juvenile and immature great whites in the area as of last summer.
Emergency services were called to the beach about 5.10pm after reports of a woman being injured in the water, police said.
She died a short time later and the death has been referred to the Coroner.
Elliott says bronze whalers are more common in the area than great whites but they haven't attacked a human in a very long time.
"It's very uncommon to have shark attacks in New Zealand - in the world in general, especially fatal ones," he said.
"Shark attacks are incredibly rare and if you see one, remain calm, alert people around you, and calmly vacate the water."
Elliott's thoughts were also with the family and friends of the woman, describing her death as "tragic".
Shark attacks around the world are fairly uncommon given the number of people who swim in their domain, rarer still fatal attacks, Elliot said.
St John sent two ambulances, a first response unit, and a helicopter to Waihī Beach initially, a spokeswoman told the Herald.
The TECT Rescue Helicopter was called at 5.15pm, a spokesperson for the Philips Search and Rescue Trust said.
The helicopter landed but was stood as the woman had died.
Henry says locals were feeling for the woman who lost her life and her family.
"It's just an absolute tragedy," she said.
"Obviously, we're all very concerned that a life has been taken."
She did not believe the attack would affect the appeal of the beach town.
Last week, a Rotorua family were turned away from the beach by lifeguards twice after sharks were seen.
Surf Life Saving New Zealand national search and rescue manager Allan Mundy says people need to respect ocean animals.
"We know that these animals are ever-present in our environment. What we ask people to do is always be vigilant, respect the animals, it's their home, not ours."
Mundy encourages people not to do things like gut fish on the beach, as it may attract all sorts of animals like sharks, stingrays, crabs and others.
"In the past, divers have become hassled by sharks because they've got the fish that they've speared on their dive belt," he said.
"So, think about what the animals are attracted to, and minimise that."
Mundy said Surf Lifesaving doesn't have the power to close the beach and that decision is made by either the regional or city council.
"It comes down to where the attack actually happened. The circumstances of the attack, which are still very sketchy at this point in time ... it will come down to the regional council.
"They will have a lot of information at their disposal prior to making that decision."
Western Bay of Plenty Katikati-Waihi Beach ward councillor James Denyer has lived in the region for 11 years and this is the first he has heard of a fatal shark attack in these waters.
"Tend to think it happens in Australia."
In December, Clinton Duffy from the Department of Conservation says it's common for sharks, especially adult females, to be productive in shallow coastal waters at this time of the year.
He said this was a result of the shallows receiving light and warming quicker and in spring biological production kicks off earlier than it does in deep offshore waters.
"Several species of sharks move inshore to give birth in these shallow productive areas so their pups have the best chance of survival. Other species move inshore at the same time to feed on abundant fishes.
"This is an annual phenomenon. The timing of the inshore-offshore movements of sharks is probably influenced by temperature and light levels.
"It should also be remembered that there is always likely to be some sharks inshore regardless of the time of year."
Two-metre shark washes up on Waihī Beach in 2019
In July 2019, a 2m-long shark washed up dead at Waihī Beach.
And 13 months ago a massive great white shark was spotted by people on a boat near Waihī Beach.
It was estimated the shark was about 3.5m long.
Waihī Beach was also closed down in January 2014 after lifeguards and swimmers spotted a small shark near the shoreline.
In February 2013, father-of-one Adam Strange was killed after he was attacked by a shark off Muriwai Beach.
The 46-year-old had been swimming.
A policeman later fired up to 12 shots at the killer shark as bids were made to retrieve Strange's body.
The police Eagle helicopter spotted the shark while it was still attacking Strange and stayed above until officers got to the beach.
One was sent on the water in an inflatable rescue boat with three lifeguards.
It is understood that when the inflatable got to Strange, the shark still had him in its grip. He was already dead. The officer used a M4 Bushmaster rifle to shoot at the shark to get it to release the body.
Witness Pio Mose told the Herald at the time that was fishing with a group of men on the rocks when he saw the "huge" shark attack Strange just 50m away. "All of a sudden there was blood everywhere."
Mose said he saw Strange struggle with the shark before it swam away. He was keeping his head above the water before the shark returned.
"I yelled at him to swim to the rocks."
Mose watched helplessly as the shark took Strange's body out to sea, and when lifeguards arrived, he directed them to the group of sharks.
"It's awful - it's scary like a nightmare to me. All I was thinking was I wanted to jump in the water and help but I didn't want to get attacked by a shark too."
A resident who lives above Māori Bay saw the drama.
"Then I saw the IRB on the water and heard the explosions and saw water flying up. They were shooting at the shark in an effort to get it to release the body.
"There would have been up to 10 to a dozen shots fired - some in very quick succession."
Up to 2014, there had been 12 reported fatal shark attacks in New Zealand.
That includes one in 1966 in Auckland's Manukau Harbour, plus at Te Kaha (1976), Napier (1896), Oakura (1966), Wellington (1852), Kumara (1896), Moeraki (1907 and 1967), St Clair (1964 and 1967) and Aramoana (1968).
The 1964 attack at St Clair, Dunedin, took the life of lifeguard Leslie Jordan, 19. Two former St Clair lifeguards reached Jordan, bringing him back to the beach on their surfboards after a shark ripped off his right leg during a training swim. Jordan died from his injuries.
And tragedy struck Taranaki in 1966 when 15-year-old New Plymouth schoolgirl Rae Marion Keightley was fatally mauled while bodysurfing off Oakura Beach.
Keightley had her left leg bitten from thigh to calf before surfboard rider Anthony Johns brought her to shore.
Last February a 60-year-old man had a lucky escape while out surfing at Pauanui Beach, on the Coromandel.
The man was bitten on the arm, before the shark latched onto his surfboard.
"So I actually shouted at it 'f*** off!' and went to punch it in the eye and missed," he told the Herald. "Then I pulled my fist back and shouted 'f*** off!' again and got it right smack bang in the eye."
The shark finally disengaged after being punched twice.