Coromandel spear fishers say they are encountering increasing numbers of bigger sharks and now expect the creatures will turn up on the sound of their guns going off.
Champion spearfisher Ian Warnock, of Flaxmill Bay near Whitianga, began diving the area in the mid-1970s.
He says since the late 1990s the numbers have risen to now regular sightings most dives.
"Every year there's more and more of them. I think it's one of those things that if you're going to go out spearfishing and diving you have to accept that, it's not going to get better.
"They're just there - all the time."
Shark expert Riley Elliot told a packed audience of surf club volunteers last month that very little is known about the bronze whaler, the most common shark found around surfers and swimmers on the Coromandel's east coast.
He said it was informative for him to hear what people believed to be the facts around sharks, reassuring oceangoers but adding that there has never been a study on migration patterns and behaviour of bronze whaler sharks in New Zealand.
The main advice to people is to carry on their usual beach activities because "that's what makes us Kiwis".
"Everyone is worried more right now but you don't need to do anything differently. Everything you do in your everyday life is much riskier than sharks," he said.
"The Kiwi attitude is to respect the world, to understand it's a dangerous place at times. That's why we climb the highest mountains, why we go to the farthest corners of the earth and why we love nature."
Riley is a Tairua resident, shark scientist and waterman, a surfer, scuba diver and spear fisherman himself, with a University of Auckland PhD in marine biology and shark research.
Tairua Surf Club invited him to talk to the ocean and lifeguard community about sharks following the death at Bowentown Beach of Kaelah Marlow, 19, from Hamilton.
"We see them all the time when we look," said Riley. "You put five million Kiwis in the water over summer and you realise how good sharks are at behaving themselves when we only have the occasional tragedy...but it is the unfortunate reality of nature.
"The best thing we can do is keep doing what we enjoy. You can get caught up very quickly in worrying about things you don't need to worry about, but that doesn't mean you don't respect it."
But his comment that spearfishers may encounter more bronze whalers has rung true for numerous locals in the sport.
"Spear fishing, in my eyes, is the biggest risk in this area and spear fishermen are going to encounter more and more aggressive bronze whalers. They're like dogs, you keep feeding them, and you get six there. It's getting more intense," Riley says.
"We need to realise the consequence of our actions so we can change them."
Two weeks ago off the coast of Slipper Island, Sam Macaw had shot to the surface needing a breath of fresh air after spearing a snapper when he saw a 2.5m long "super nuggety" bronze whaler just 3m below him.
"You couldn't get your arms around it," he said of the size.
"It was just hovering there and I thought it was coming for my fish."
Sam's spearfishing friends Thierry Meier and partner Emilie Servais, who were also in the water, had their eye on the shark too.
Emilie had seen the "big fat shark" with baitfish trailing behind him.
"He seemed very driven, swimming quite fast.
"Sam didn't even see the shark until it had already turned away," says Emilie.
Nearby, Thierry was watching in awe too, unaware that it was heading for his friend.
"I saw the bronzie pretty much vertical going straight up, which sharks usually only do when they're going for something or are really inquisitive of something.
I saw the bronzie pretty much vertical going straight up which sharks usually only do when they're going for something
"He was swimming rather quick and I saw him do a 180 and go back down again."
It was at this point that he saw his friend a few metres away on the surface.
"Maybe he realised Sam was bigger than he thought. That's not usually how you see sharks in the water, it was kind of freaky."
Emilie says she avoids injuring a fish or even spearing something unless it's well worth the likelihood of a shark coming to investigate.
"We're aware that sharks can respond to the click of your gun going off," says Emilie. "It's starting to become part of my thinking when spearfishing. You really want to make it worth it."
The bronze whaler shark is the most common close to shore in this stretch of Coromandel coastline and the harbour in Tairua-Pauanui was "full of them at times'', Riley says.
"The beach is plentiful at times but these sharks hunt and eat fish one metre long, crabs that are small and octopus much smaller than us.
"They're a very intelligent shark, they're very aware of humans co-existing with them and they're super-quick learners."
Describing them as similar to dogs, he said they are habituated and will return to feed from fish guts that are dropped off a public wharf, for example.
"We all used to fillet our fish off the main wharves where children were doing bombs and we realise that having bronze whalers waiting there for a splash of a kingi frame looks similar to that little guy jumping. Should we all know where to dispose of our fish frames so that we all do it and know not to swim there, perhaps? I'm very conscious of how I dispose of my fish frames and try to do it at sea, but if on land I generally do it on an outgoing tide out the back of Paku, where no-one swims."
He said it was important that people talked about the issues.
"We're after an awareness...It's about getting the community engagement so we can start putting pieces of the puzzle together."
He said the only time sharks feed is dusk and dawn.
"The rest of the time they sit behind the waves off Pauanui and Tairua and sunbathe to conserve energy and use the white water of waves to let them breathe...pushing that oxygenated water through their gills.
He said bronze whalers were a highly capable predator, getting more confident the more people fished and spearfished, and he encouraged people to distance these activities from where people swam.
"They know where they're hunting and they avoid us pretty well," he said of swimmers.
Ian Warnock has spent "hundreds of thousands" of hours in the water and says he rarely saw sharks until after changes in fisheries legislation when trawling and gill netting stopped closer to shore.
"From the late 90s they started appearing. Since then every year there are more and more of them.
"In our local area here they must be the same sharks getting bigger and bigger. They're obviously pretty territorial and they've learnt what a speargun is - the minute it goes off, they're in. They know it's feed time."
In Tairua, Dutchy's store owner Tim Simons says the numerous spearfishers through his store have reported nothing out of the ordinary with shark behaviour in recent weeks.
"A shark's behaviour changes when you shoot a fish or when there's food in the water like dead or dying fish. They see it as a feed and compete for that food, they love an easy meal," he says.
"It is different to seeing a shark if you're just swimming, they will have a look but are usually chilled and won't give you grief."
He encourages buddy diving to watch each other's back when shooting fish and trying to dispatch a fish quickly, second shooting a kingfish to get it in over 30 seconds instead of 5 minutes.
Using a floatboat or keeping your fish away from you and out of the water in the boat, and gutting catch away from diving or swimming spots are also advised.
"Don't tow 20 dead butterfish on your floatline for an hour - that's the best way to see a shark over summer!"
Riley said great white sharks were different to bronze whalers and rarely made a mistake when they attacked.
Harbours are nursery grounds for great whites. They are born at 1.5m and when they come out of a harbour the juvenile swims toward seal colonies to hunt.
"It is possible we have had a population age boom of great whites through the fact that we protected this animal and we may start seeing more of these animals than we used to.
"I just want to make us aware - unless we share what we're seeing and do it in a way that's educational, we're not going to know much because we know very little about these animals, and where is and isn't risky.
Riley said all water people were more likely to be putting themselves into increased exposure zones and it was important to know where potential dangers areas are for great white sharks, especially.
"Where you put yourself in danger with sharks is if you overlap with where they feed - if you look like what they feed on and then you act poorly compared to what they hunt, that's when you're the wool to the kitten. A shark's instinct says 'I can't ask that guy, all I can do is bite it' and it's amazing that they don't do it more often. We are lucky we have a low population of dangerous sharks in this area."