Shark Activity Explained with Dr. Riley Elliott
A shark expert has a message for those using Bowentown Harbor: Respect the area’s great whites and stay away from two hotspots.
Incredible footage of a fisherman catching a great white shark as it leapt out of the water in Kaipara Harbor and a great white leaping and hitting a small fishing boat in Bowentown, near Waihī Beach, have highlighted the fact that there have been more sightings than usual this summer.
Shark researcher Dr Riley Elliott agreed he had certainly heard of other sightings. He told Jesse Mulligan that Bowentown Harbor appeared to be perfect breeding habitat for great whites and that the increase in numbers reflected the success of conservation efforts.
“It happens to be one of our summer hot spots. It’s nothing new because the Kaipara has been a hotspot for great nursery whites for decades, but it doesn’t have quite the same impact on human interaction.
Large white sightings have been reported in several northern areas, he says.
“I’ve heard of more great whites this summer than any other. And it’s not just Bowentown, I heard of two yesterday at Mercury Island, we saw some at Omaha, j I’ve heard of a multitude on The Mount Way, of varying sizes and I take each with a grain of salt as it’s hard to tell the species apart when it comes to sharks.
“But there appears to be a persistence and more of a prevalence of juvenile great whites around our northern beaches. But look what we expect number one is the ocean and number two there are more toys around partly because of the lockdowns and number three we kept this animal and that’s the result planned, repopulate this species.
Around this time last year, 19-year-old Kaelah Marlow of Hamilton was killed by a shark at Waihī Beach near Bowentown on January 8.
Elliot says the circumstances of the attack were unique.
“I wrote the coroner’s report on this so I can tell you it was definitely a 2.8m great white shark that caused this and the circumstances that led to this are new and unique and reflect the number of variables to put together to cause an adverse reaction with a shark.
“It was the fact that it was a stormy day, there weren’t many people in the water, there were people fishing well off the flags, she got caught in a tear and ended up 500m offshore, which is a long way.
“She was panicking and drowning and just before rescuers arrived a shark unfortunately bit the back of her leg and she bled before she could get help.”
One of Elliot’s main points of frustration is that he hasn’t been able to search the area since the attack, which he says would help keep sharks and humans safe. The Ministry of Conservation has still not given him permission to do so, after applying for a special permit a year ago.
“It’s the tragedy of the DOC permitting process that’s taking over a year now, to allow research to take place there, because without research, how do you activate information, how do you give to locals and people who visit the area the means to make their own decisions about the risks- taking and I just hope that this permit happens.
“I haven’t been able to do any research in this area. I applied before the doom to see what was happening in this area regarding tall whites and people and the permit process is supposed to take 20 business days. Until now. it’s been a year and i still have 40 days for the iwi consultation from time to time, i hope to progress, because the great white is an endangered species, it is protected by animal protection law and you cannot touch, disturb or search for it at all without permission from the DOC.
“So as one of the few shark researchers in the world who specializes in the exact answer to that question, and it’s in my backyard 50km down the coast, and I’m sitting on my hands for a year waiting for this, it’s really disempowering, not only for me but for the people of this region.
“Most importantly, I think two tall white people were killed in a completely avoidable way, because we weren’t there to show them that this is an important area for them and that we shouldn’t put in barbaric fixed nets. in there. hot spot.”
The research involves tagging sharks to track their movements, he says. This would provide invaluable information so that people in the region can make informed choices about where they use water.
“With that you get a good understanding of where these sharks are feeding, resting, traveling, transiting and you can overlap that with our hobbies and with that you can tell people, ‘look, there are Hotspots here, if you want to go to sea Biscuit there fine, but that’s the risk. We told you so’.
Another aspect of the research would involve genetic sampling to see if the sharks are all uniquely related, or if it’s a multitude of animals that migrated there.
He doesn’t think people should just stay out of the water in these areas in general, but only in the highest risk areas.
The shark expert hosted a community information event in Bowentown and the response was enthralled by locals, he says.
He went to Bowentown and got an idea of where people bathed and how they used the water, and where.
From these exercises, he became aware of a number of risk areas.
“At the end of the day, it’s like your dog. If you start riding where you feed him, where your kids play, you put the dog in a precarious position. He can defend his bowl at some point,” he says.
“Basically, the association of people and sharks right now in this area is very much about the fishermen who have come out to Berley to catch fish and the sharks have learned that it’s much easier to catch fish on a line than to catch one themselves.
“So in the channels where the guys are fishing don’t overlap if you’re swimming in that area and the most risky place I would say is the water ski trails inside Matakana Island , because it’s also in the channel with good food sources for sharks.People fishing, but it’s also ironically the water ski slopes with kids being dragged on sea biscuits.
As a recreational ocean user, Elliot says he got into shark research because he was afraid of them and didn’t understand animals. Now he understands better that he appreciates how well they behave with people in the water.
“I think these sharks are doing really well considering if you’re at the beach you’ve seen how many human bodies on toys and sea biscuits and fishing boats and berleys and hooks thrown at these animals and we really only had those. two encounters. It’s quite telling that the fact that these animals do what they do, what they learned to do for 500 million years, which is to hunt prey and leave us alone most of the time. time.
He says the noisy behavior seen in other places like Kaipara and Coromandel this summer is induced by human activity.
Hitting boats and chewing on motor propellers is a matter of curiosity, and sharks don’t try to sink boats or get at humans.
“These events do not reflect a malicious or aggressive animal. We don’t see these sharks 99% of the other times because they do what sharks do and to be honest I’m sitting here in Tairua Harbor in Pauanui watching and there’s a million boats there there and jet skis and I can tell you there won’t be a single shark there because can you imagine the noise that makes compared to their natural habitat. So they move most often.
He said it’s helpful to look at the contrast between shark encounter incidents and tragic water safety incidents involving drowning deaths to appreciate the context.
“We create much more dangerous scenarios for ourselves than what sharks present to us, but we give sharks this really unfair reputation and really some people react badly or maliciously to them and they just don’t deserve it.”