A leading shark expert is seeking permission to study great white activity along New Zealand’s northeast coast following a summer dominated by sharks.
Riley Elliott suspects the shark that attacked Kaelah Marlow at Waihī Beach last month was a juvenile great white between 2.5m and 3m long.
He says it would be disrespectful to the 19-year-old’s family not to investigate further.
“Things have changed now,” he told the Bay of Plenty Times. “It’s pretty obvious something special is going on in Bowentown.”
“What is clear, having great whites in the mix and of that age has just turned the dial up a bit. At that age and size, they shift their diet from fish to seals.”
The Coroner’s investigation into Marlow’s death is still under way, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson confirmed.
Tairua-based Elliott has appealed to the Department of Conservation for permission to launch a project investigating great white shark distribution in the northeast of the country.
DoC marine species manager Ian Angus confirmed it had received Elliott’s application to tag and sample great whites but would not comment while it was being evaluated.
Great whites were protected under the Wildlife Act 1953 and for Elliott to get the go-ahead to analyse them, he needed authorisation from the director-general of conservation.
Elliott believed the recent shark activity in the Waihī and Bowentown area reflected a great ecosystem that existed beneath the water for all marine species.
“Estuaries and harbours are utilised by all fish species as nursery grounds.
“The key point is when those babies move on if that overlaps with people that’s a point of concern and that needs [an] investigation.”
Asked whether he thought there were more sharks around New Zealand’s coast this summer than usual, Elliott didn’t think so.
He attributed the increase of sightings and publicity down to more people being in the water than most other years.
“As soon as you start looking [for sharks], whether it be on a boat, the beach, or with a drone, we start seeing a lot more of these animals,” Elliott said.
Bay marine photographer and advocate Nathan Pettigrew believed more people were actively searching for sharks.
“In the last seven to 10 years, people have seen them in the papers or there has been a surge online on Facebook, people are looking for them.
“With camera phones and all the rest of it, people are taking photos and footage and it’s just spreading.”
Pettigrew said while attention was spreading, the numbers did not necessarily reflect that and, in his opinion, no, there had not been an increase.
An investigation into shark activity along the northeast coast of New Zealand would provide Kiwis with valuable information about their activities and behaviour, Elliot said.
“Clearly, this year it’s been a hot topic and one that was unfortunately tragic at one circumstance.
“I’m putting my hand up to say I’m able to do this, I’m experienced, I have funding platforms that I can achieve as well as others to contribute to do it.
“It would be disrespectful to the family that lost a loved one if we didn’t take this seriously and investigate it.”
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