The sharks in our seas: Which species you’re likely to encounter at New Zealand beaches

The waters around New Zealand are teeming with the apex predators of the ocean – and there’s barely a stretch of coastline where you won’t encounter a species of shark.

While around 66 shark species have been identified living in our surrounding seas, there are around a dozen that fishers and swimmers will regularly come across.

Despite their fearful appearance, only a handful, like the great white, mako and hammerhead, pose a threat to human life.

Many species congregate in the warm waters of the upper North Island, ranging from bronze whalers, blue sharks, makos, giant manta rays and school sharks.

Around the South Island, generally harmless species such as spiny dogfish, school and blue sharks make the marine habitat their home.

Some species like the hammerhead, blue shark and spiny dogfish are common in all coastal waters.

But by far one of the most dangerous stretches of coastlines in the country is in the deep south, where mature great whites, with their distinct white underbelly, make their residence.

Considered the deadliest and most dangerous shark, the great white is found around both islands, with the young preferring warmer northern waters. Adults can be found in southern waters near seal colonies.

The Department of Conservation says New Zealand is a global hotspot for this species along with the waters off California, South Africa, Australia and Japan.

The apex predator, which can grow up to 7 metres long, poses the most threat to humans and is the fish responsible for the largest number of unprovoked attacks.

Since 1888 there have been five fatal attacks and 13 where people have been injured off Otago, Southland and Stewart Island beaches.

He said the fact sharks were being spotted along the coast shouldn’t cause alarm as the predators – mostly bronze whalers and thresher sharks – were simply cruising and not feeding, he said.

“They’re pretty much doing what we would be doing, enjoying the warm water, basking and cruising. There’s not any real food source along the surf beaches.

“These sharks feed out to sea or in the harbours, where there’s lots and lots of food … If they’re hunting, they are in stealth mode.”

Clinton Duffy, a marine scientist at the Department of Conservation, previously told the Herald many people had the mistaken perception sharks were uncommon in our waters. But this was not the case.

However, attacks were uncommon but people should always swim between the flags, and never alone at a non-patrolled beach.

“For the most part, sharks are completely uninterested in humans, I’ve seen them myself swimming past people … taking no interest at all.”


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