They're not all the same.

Nothing indicates summer's arrival each year quite like a shark article in the Herald. The paper understands the attraction we have is a strong one and shark stories grab eyeballs.

Inspiration for my story arrived suddenly last week while being circled by a bronze whaler.

By the end of that dive I had also encountered three different mako, a sign of a healthy ocean and clearly a subtle message to write about sharks.


It turns out we all have inbuilt feelings towards them, be those feelings realised through un-glorified cinema appearances, or in stirring some dormant fish DNA we still have that triggers an innate flight response. I personally suspect this inbuilt wariness has developed because deep down, secretly we know that; sharks are better than us.

I mean, ask yourself, do you have a lateral line of special cells down your body that can detect the heartbeat of those around you from metres away? No, you do not.

Do you possess an ability to roll out another row of front teeth just 24 hours after smashing yours out biting the tail off a broadbill swordfish? No, you can't do that either.

Free jump 6m out of the water? Well unless you're Michael Phelps with Lance Armstrong's doctor, chances are, this isn't in your skillset.

Not all sharks can do this, of course, I'm just describing the mako, a deep-water shark that a typical beach user will never ever see, let alone be threatened by.

And herein lies the point I'm arriving at. By familiarising yourself with the types of sharks we have in our waters and their characteristics, it helps demystify fears you may have about "what's in the water" and what to be wary of. I've already read one article this summer with "Great White" in the title accompanied by some shaky cellphone footage of what clearly was just another cruising bronze whaler.

This oft-misidentified shark is the one most commonly encountered by beach users each summer. That's because it likes the same waters most of us do: warm, and in the north.

It's a shark enjoying a small resurgence in numbers due in part to the reduction of inshore commercial gill-netters and an increase in offshore long-liners that have removed larger sharks that prey on their young. The reason we see this shark more often over summer is because females give birth or "pup" in harbours and males hang in groups behind the breakers smoking cigarettes and making jokes about the Tasman mako.

Although a spearfisher's death off Te Kaha in 1976 was attributed to one, bronze whalers pose little threat to swimmers. However, they are a smart animal and have learnt quickly how to steal fish from those spearing. I've paid a bit of "shark tax" in my time and there are now places I won't go as they are so clever they've learnt the sound of a firing speargun and turn up instantly.

Like a group of young men at Rhythm and Vines, when mobbed up, ''bronzies" can go a bit feral. Whereas one or two in the water are usually okay, three or more and it pays to get out. But again this is nearly all related to spearfishing, where they are interested only in my catch. Here I am literally in their patch, spearing their favourite food in front of them, dragging it along tantalisingly behind me, with lots of blood and vibration in the water, i.e. the opposite of someone having a swim in the surf at a favourite beach.

Shark tax: there are places sharks have learnt the sound of a firing speargun and turn up instantly. Photo / Getty Images
Shark tax: there are places sharks have learnt the sound of a firing speargun and turn up instantly. Photo / Getty Images

Of course, we can't finish an article on sharks without writing about our great white one.

An actual white supremacist, that unless you go cage-diving off one tiny islet off Stewart Island at a certain time of year, you will almost never see. I've spoken to professional pāua and kina divers who have spent their whole lives in the water and never seen one.

That's not to say they aren't around in small numbers but, believe it or not, they are a fairly cautious animal. As sight feeders, they protect their eyes at all costs, and so being confused about what a person is, the vast majority will steer well clear of ever taking a risk on us. However having no hands to "feel", much like your mum squeezing the produce at the supermarket, occasionally one might "test the waters" with their mouth.

Statistically speaking, Kiwis face far more danger from our increasingly sedentary lifestyles that aren't balanced by doing things like getting out and enjoying the most of what our incredible coastline has to offer.

Mako barbecue trivia
The mako, aka the blue pointer, is the cousin of the great white shark, aka "the great white pointer". The name "mako", used throughout the world, is Māori. It was picked up by author Zane Grey, whose books were written here in NZ, and their popuularity saw the name "mako" adopted worldwide. It evolved from Polynesian words for shark. For example, in Samoa shark is "mago", in Tahiti it's "ma'o", and Hawaiian is "mano".

• Clarke Gayford hosts Fish of the Day, returning to Three this year.