‘It just came at me’: Great white shark bites fisherman’s kayak

A Bay of Plenty fisherman is taking a break from the water after a great white shark bit the front of his kayak, leaving tooth fragments embedded in the plastic.

Mike, 60, who didn’t want his last name published, was livebaiting for kingfish from his four-metre kayak in Bowentown Harbour on January 4.

“I’d moved from my first spot because my bait was taken – I assumed by a bronzey [bronze whaler shark],” Mike said.

“I hooked up pretty quickly and this thing just took off.”

Whatever he’d hooked towed his kayak from his spot near Kauri Pt Wharf towards Katikati before it turned and headed for Omokoroa.

“This went on for half an hour or more. It just wasn’t getting tired.”

Mike, who lives in Tuapiro, says his kayak was towed at least 2km before he used the vessel’s pedal drive to catch up to his quarry.

“I got some of my line back and I was thinking, ‘I should see some colour soon’. Then out of nowhere this thing just came at me and had a go at the kayak.

“It looked at me, I looked at it and I thought ‘oh sh*t’. I’d given this guy a hard time. He was angry.”

Mike cut his fishing line and the shark swam off. Fortunately, the kayak was still seaworthy.

“I was pretty keen to get out of there.”

Back on dry ground, Mike took a closer look at the damage.

“There were bite marks in the keel and bite marks in the top [of the kayak]. Then I found three teeth shards embedded in it. I managed to pull two out.”

Mike did some research and concluded the teeth belonged to a great white shark because of their unique serrations.

Department of Conservation marine scientist Clinton Duffy has seen photos of one of the fragments and confirms it belonged to a great white.

“It’s not uncommon to get whole teeth or tooth fragments from bites to boards,” Duffy said.

Mike can’t say exactly how big the shark was – “I only saw his teeth, his eyes and his nose” – but guesses it was “a couple of hundred pounds of shark” given the size of the bite marks.

Duffy says white sharks – mostly juveniles – have been reported fairly regularly around Bowentown channel and harbour for the past four or five years.

They’re found in most of the waters around New Zealand and are drawn to harbours to feed.

“They’ve always been there. We just forget.”

The shark that bit Mike’s kayak was behaving defensively, he said.

“Given it was hooked, it saw the kayak as a threat.”

Mike has since fixed his kayak, but he says he’ll be taking a break from fishing “for a month or so” – and won’t drop a live bait at Bowentown Harbour again.

“We just have to live with them [the sharks],” he said.

People using the harbour needed to take sensible precautions. “Don’t dump your fish in the harbour – that just draws them in.”

Duffy says people should be aware of the risks posed by fishing from smaller, less stable vessels.

“Personally I don’t think it’s a good idea to fish from kayaks or jet skis – certainly not berleying from them.”

'We can only educate ourselves'

Marine scientist and shark researcher Riley Elliott this week told RNZ the increased number of shark sightings in NZ is not surprising, despite their populations declining.

Although there are far fewer sharks than previously, a lot more people are going into the water, Elliott said.

“We cannot blame sharks for us encountering them more, we can only blame ourselves, we can only educate ourselves and we can only understand the environments that we go into and accept the risk if we’re going to go into them.”

A report in the journal Nature a few weeks ago indicated that shark numbers have declined worldwide by 70 per cent over the past 50 years, but Kiwi shark researchersdon’t know how badly affected the creatures have been around New Zealand.

The Nature paper noted that in the Pacific Ocean, numbers decreased steeply before 1990, and then declined at a slower rate, recording an overall decline of 67 per cent.

The global decline of oceanic shark numbers was mostly attributed to a huge increase in fishing since 1970. Half the world’s 31 oceanic shark species are now listed as endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“It is very hard to assess the status of many sharks in our waters because we don’t have shark-specific monitoring programmes,” Niwa fisheries scientist Dr Brit Finucci said.

“For some species we have noted possible declines in recent years, but we are unsure if these trends are a real decline in abundance, a change in the fishery, or a change in animal behaviour.”

'A bit more power than a bronze whaler'

Mike’s encounter happened just three days before Kaelah Marlow, 19, was killed by a shark at nearby Waihi Beach.

After her tragic death on January 7, multiple stories have emerged of shark encounters around the Bay of Plenty and further north.

On January 30, an Auckland man suffered minor injuries after a shark bit his arm at Papamoa Beach, 75km south of Waihi Beach.

He did not require hospital treatment, but the close encounter with the shark – species unknown – came as DoC warned about great whites in nearby Tauranga Harbour after several possible sightings.

People should be aware and avoid swimming in the main channels of the harbour or fishing from kayaks and jet skis, the organisation advised at the time.

Last week, Te Awamutu teen Tim Fairhurst reeled in a great white shark at the Bowentown end of Waihi Beach.

What a wicked surprise we had in the weekend, something I didnt think I'd ever catch! We made the trip over to bowentown…

Fairhurst said he and some friends were on the hunt for bronze whaler sharks in the channel between Bowentown Beach and Matakana Island when they snagged the great white.

“We just had a snapper frame out and it wasn’t even that long, probably half an hour of being there. We hooked it up and thought it was a bit more power than a normal bronze whaler.”

Once Fairhurst and his friends had reeled the shark in, they towed it to the beach at Matakana Island where they removed the hook, took some photos and released it.

They reported the catch to DoC.

Sharks in NZ

Around 66 shark species have been identified living in New Zealand’s oceans, and there are around a dozen that fishers and swimmers will regularly come across.

Despite their fearful appearance only a handful pose a threat to human life.

Considered the deadliest and most dangerous shark, the great white is found around both islands. The young prefer warmer northern waters. Adults, which can grow up to 7 metres long, can be found in southern waters near seal colonies.

DoC says New Zealand is a global great white hotspot, along with California in the US, South Africa, Australia and Japan.

Great white sharks are a protected species in New Zealand and trade in white shark products is illegal.

DoC says encounters with large sharks in coastal waters usually happen over spring and summer, when many species move inshore to pup and feed.

Duffy says people can protect themselves by not swimming at night, dusk or dawn when sharks feed, by swimming with others; sticking to patrolled areas where possible; and avoiding swimming in places where there are a lot of fish – if you can see birds working, for example – or where people are fishing.

– With David Beck, Bay of Plenty Times; RNZ

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