What should you do when a shark shows up?


One of many Bronze Whalers we see at Little Barrier.

With summer in full flight and the water temperature getting over 18 degrees, shark encounters can become much more common.

This is not about to change any time soon, with the numbers of some species increasing, and as they become more comfortable interacting with humans.

In the upper north island Bronze Whalers are the most common and cause the most tension for spearfisher people. They can become pretty territorial, and ‘friendly’.

The apparent increase in Bronze Whaler numbers is not bad; typically it’s a sign of a healthier fishery. Because, no matter where you go in the world, if there are a lot of sharks, there are a lot of fish, resulting in a healthy ecosystem.

So embracing and learning how to reduce problematic encounters with them is the best approach.

There are many techniques and pieces of equipment I use to minimize the risk of a shark eating my fish or otherwise causing me problems. Common sense normally prevails when dealing with Bronze Whalers, and with the other common sharks we may come across like Makos and Seven Gills.

I will stick to Bronze Whalers as they tend to be a main culprit.

Archie Molloy with two nice Kingfish he managed to sneak past the Bronze Whalers using the Wettie float boat.

Guideline 1: Fish selection

Now this is a really easy one and probably the most effective way of reducing shark problems. Certain fish tend to attract unwanted attention and be a favourite on a Bronze Whaler’s menu. Now this may break a lot of spearo’s hearts but Kingfish and sharks go hand in hand these days, sometimes literally.

You will often get a Bronze Whaler or two in convoy with a school of Kingfish waiting for a spearo to make an easy meal for them. Don’t fall into their trap!

Maybe a better option is to steer away from shooting a Kingfish, especially in popular areas where there is known to be high fishing or spearing traffic and where sharks are a known presence.

An alternative could be to find a different spot, where there is less known pressure and where the sharks haven’t become accustomed to spearfishers.

The Bronze Whalers’ behaviour has been taught to them; they are learning all the time and have figured out that the firing of a speargun is like a dinner bell for them. You may get away with spearing the first fish but the next may explode in chaos.

Another favourite for sharks is the humble butterfish which is the most popular fish speared. It pays to get butterfish out of the water as soon as possible after spearing it or otherwise you can leave a stringer of ‘lollipops’ for any resident Bronzies.

Wettie Mini float boat keeping fish out of the water minimises shark incidents.

Strangely enough fish like Snapper, John Dory and Boarfish don’t win much attention from sharks and when spearing them I have never really experienced any incidents.

Guideline 2: Diving location

This has already been covered a bit in the fish selection section and though, obviously, sharks have tails and can swim anywhere in the ocean, these days there are common spearing grounds that are known for Bronze Whaler problems. If you are not comfortable with dealing with them, it may pay to avoid these spots. This is not a foolproof solution but would certainly be a step in a safe direction.

For example, I want to go shoot a kingfish. Do I go dive the Outpost at Leigh where it is common knowledge the Bronze Whalers can get aggressive with fish in the water and are well accustomed to meeting spearos? Or I can try a new area along the coast, where I will likely be met with less resistance from sharks?

I have dived along that part of the coastline extensively and there are other areas to dive where I definitely get less attention from sharks while still encountering plenty of fish.

Guideline 3: Get a Float Boat

This is one of the most useful pieces of equipment these days for looking after your catch and keeping sharks away from it.

No fish in the water typically results in less attention from sharks. The Wettie float boat does this. The float won’t sink and will keep your catch out of the water and with it any smell of fish. It’s proven extremely effective in sharky areas and will save most people a lot of hassle.

Guideline 4: Confidence

Lots of people ask me whether they will see a shark when spearfishing and my answer is often yes.

We will always have interactions with sharks since we are in their environment and where they have the upper hand.

When encountering a shark it’s important to be confident. The shark can sense how you feel and will respond to your movements. Try keeping eye contact with them and making your movements calm and measured.

Often, if a shark takes too much interest in me, I will swim towards it, to ward it off. But if a shark becomes erratic in its movements its typically best you leave the water. However if it’s simply cruising around just enjoy the experience, and keep an eye on it.

Note that I have called these guidelines. They are not rules, but just suggestions that have worked for me.

Sharks are not to be feared but they are to be respected. Simply killing them will not fix the relationship between us spearos or other divers and sharks. Learning how to be with them in the water, and to get out when necessary, is far better.

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