The apex predator of the ocean, the great white shark, has been identified as threatened according to a Government report on the conservation status of sharks in New Zealand waters.

The great white and basking shark are now classed as "threatened" - a negative shift from their previous "at risk" status in the last report published in 2005.

The report, called The New Zealand Threat Classification System, updates the conservation status of 113 species or types of sharks, rays and chimaeras (also known as ghost sharks) found in New Zealand waters.

"New knowledge about great whites has confirmed an already suspected low adult population, which is either stable or in decline," Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage said.

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"A recent population estimate puts the number of adult great white sharks in New Zealand at between 590 and 750 and the total population including juveniles at 5460 sharks."

Lack of sightings of the basking shark, a large plankton-eater, at former coastal hotspots such as Cook Strait, Kaikoura, around Banks Peninsula and off Otago was cause for concern.

The Great White Shark has been identified as threatened according to a Government report on the conservation status of sharks in New Zealand waters. Photo: Clinton Duffy/DoC
The Great White Shark has been identified as threatened according to a Government report on the conservation status of sharks in New Zealand waters. Photo: Clinton Duffy/DoC

"We don't know why basking sharks are declining in New Zealand waters, but it may be due to climate change and fisheries bycatch. Global population estimates for this species are low."

However, it was not all bad news for members of the shark family.

Four shark species have been given an improved status of "not threatened" due to new information.

"These are the Galapagos shark and Kermadec smooth-hound, which are protected within the Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve, and six-gill shark and Pacific sleeper shark, which are widespread deep-water fish."

New Zealand's marine area, the Territorial Sea and Exclusive Economic Zone, is 15 times the country's land area with diverse marine environments and ecosystems that are home to about 8000 known marine species.

The sandbar shark, slender electric ray and whitetip reef shark have all been newly reported in New Zealand waters and added to the list.