Worried about being bitten by a shark? You have more chance of having a heart attack or being killed in a car crash.
People need to stop being afraid of sharks and instead educate themselves about the animals, says shark expert Clinton Duffy.
Two weeks ago, Hamilton girl Kaelah Marlow, 19, was bitten by a shark at Waihi Beach. She was pulled out of the water alive but paramedics were unable to save her.
Despite the recent tragedy at Waihi Beach, the list of shark attacks around the Coromandel is short. Previous attacks happened at Pauanui in 2020 when a 60-year-old surfer managed to fight off the shark, at Whangamata in 2009, when a capsized kayaker was bitten by a great white shark, and at Waihi Beach in 1978.
On Waikato's West Coast the most recent shark incident was at Raglan in 2006 involving a 10-year-old boy who survived.
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), marine biology technician Warrick Lyon says there is no reason to panic.
"The risk of a shark attack is really low. You have more chance of getting a heart attack or dying in a car accident."
Department of Conservation marine technical adviser Clinton Duffy says the kind of shark that was involved in the attack on January 6 has not been identified yet, but people shouldn't be overly alarmed.
"We don't think the risk of a shark attack has increased and neither has the amount of sharks along the coasts. The number of sharks people see this summer is exactly the same as in previous years."
Duffy says the opposite may actually be the case and it is possible there are fewer sharks around due to overfishing. Some sharks, like the great white, and hammerhead are even under threat and listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
New Zealand waters are home to 113 shark species, including stingrays. Duffy says the most common ones around the Coromandel and Waikato west coast are bronze whalers, hammerhead and seven gill sharks, but also a few great white sharks.
"Sharks usually ignore people, most of them are even intimidated and scared of people," says Duffy.
When attacks happen, it is usually a case of mistaken identity and the shark has mistaken a person or even surfboard for prey, he says.
"Some sharks also bite to see what the subject or object in front of them is. Sometimes, like with spear fishermen, the sharks see people as a competitor for possible food and bite to scare them off."
Lyon says that no beach is at higher risk than others of having a shark attack, however attacks will continue to happen.
"We are in the sharks' waters. You can't fully eliminate the risk of an attack unless you don't go swimming."
Duffy says it is impossible to predict when, where and if an attack is going to happen.
"It depends on the individual shark. It is difficult to say where the sharks go or how long they stick to an area. In 24 hours a shark could be 100km away or it could stay around an area for several months."
There are other, more common risks that people face when swimming in the ocean.
"Waves and rips are normal swimming hazards that people don't think about – but they should.
"It is more likely to drown in a rip than be attacked by a shark," says Duffy.
What can people do to lower the risk of an attack?
"Swim between the flags and avoid swimming at night-time or near entrances of rivers. If you are not familiar with shark behaviour, get out of the water quickly and quietly when you see one," says Duffy.
According to the experts, the biggest impact is education.
"Sharks are not man-eating monsters. It is possible to dive with them quite safely. People need to stop being afraid of them and instead educate themselves about the animals and their behaviour," says Duffy.
Lyon says: "When you see a shark just be amazed that you see one. They are actually quite interesting animals."