The smallest great white shark ever recorded in New Zealand has washed up on Ninety Mile Beach, with the rare find delighting scientists at Auckland Museum who have carried out a detailed necropsy.
At 1.05m long, and 7.8kg in weight, the shark pup is something New Zealand scientists have not seen before. Such finds are very rare worldwide and the Northland specimen comes in as the third smallest recorded on an international shark database.
Compared with fully grown great white sharks that can weigh up to 2000kg and measure up to 7m long the shark really is a baby shark.
Far North man Jakson Stancich, from Houhora, made the historic discovery on one of his routine patrols of the beach in March.
Stancich has a diploma in marine studies and is passionate about the marine environment and when he spotted the shark on the low tide mark he knew it was something special.
"I knew it was a rare find," Stancich said.
"I've seen a few great whites so I knew what this was one straight away ... although I haven't seen one this small before."
He collected the shark and put it in a chilly bin on the back of his truck. He contacted Tom Trnski, Head of Natural Sciences at Auckland Museum, and took instruction on what he should do next.
The baby great white was carefully wrapped and put in the family's deep freezer until it could be couriered to Auckland Museum.
Students at Waitaki and Te Hapua School were fortunate enough to see the rare find before it found its way to scientists in the big smoke.
Trnski leads the development, documentation, research and public access of all Auckland Museum's natural science collections and has written books, published scientific papers and led many surveys of fishes throughout the Pacific.
It was only this month that Trnski and Department of Conservation and New Zealand shark expert Clinton Duffy could meet and carry out the necropsy.
The life cycle of the great white shark is still not clear, which is why these scientists are excited about the opportunity to study the rare find.
"We would be one of the few museums in the world to have a newborn white shark," Trnski said. "This is a valuable scientific specimen. It's once in a lifetime stuff."
The shark was named Rehutai, sea foam in Māori, and was blessed by Ngati Kuri.
Trnski said the female shark was in light condition and he was unsure why it might have died.
While there was no evidence of a hook, the shark was missing a few teeth. She could have been caught and released by an angler in a boat close to shore or someone long lining or surf casting and due to the stress died and washed ashore in the surf.
Rehutai will be embalmed and kept at the museum, but she might never be seen by the public unless there is a specific great white shark exhibition, Trnski said.
"She will be available for Ngati Kuri and scientists from around the world for hundreds of years to come."
Great White sharks are protected in New Zealand and if anglers do hook one they should cut them free.
"Just cut the trace, you don't have to remove the hook, it will work its way out eventually," Trnski said.
If possible, he said, get a photo of the shark and report it to DoC.