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Status of the Great White Shark in New Zealand waters

Latest data on the status and behaviour of great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) in the coastal waters of New Zealand.


The enigmatic apex predator, the great white shark (or white shark), is a large fish found in oceans worldwide, including New Zealand waters. The earliest recorded sighting of great white sharks in New Zealand was in the 1830s when European explorers observed them near the shore. In the early 1900s, commercial fishing for white sharks began, and the species was considered a pest due to the damage caused to fishing gear and catch. However, during the mid-20th century, people recognised white sharks as an important predator in marine ecosystems bringing a shift in attitudes. It was not until the 1970s, when commercial fishing operations and recreational fishing expeditions for great white sharks in New Zealand had become more widespread, that there was a significant increase in reported white shark sightings.
New Zealand is now known as one of the best places in the world to observe white sharks. Great white sharks in New Zealand have a population estimation ranging from 1000-2000 individuals. Most sightings occur around the coast of the North Island, particularly in the Bay of Plenty and Northland regions. Experts believe great white sharks in New Zealand are drawn to its waters by the abundance of food, including seals, fish, and other marine life. Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands are significant locations for great white sharks in New Zealand due to their unique environmental features and abundance of prey. Researchers monitor the islands better to understand white sharks’ behaviour and population dynamics. Protecting these areas and the species that inhabit them is essential for ensuring the long-term survival of white sharks and maintaining the health of these vital marine ecosystems.
Stewart Island, located off the southern coast of New Zealand, is known for its cold waters and rich nutrient supply, which attract large numbers of fish and marine mammals such as seals and sea lions – prime food sources for white sharks. Additionally, the waters around Stewart Island are relatively shallow, allowing white sharks to hunt and navigate their surroundings easily.
The Chatham Islands, located about 800 kilometres east of New Zealand, are rich in marine life, mainly seals and sea lions. The characteristic of this area is strong ocean currents that support a diverse ecosystem and attracts a variety of marine species that white sharks rely on as a food source.
More recently, using tracking and new technology, scientists have found great white sharks in New Zealand throughout its waters, from the north island to the south.
Tracking the movement and behaviours of great white sharks in New Zealand is vital for understanding their role in marine ecosystems and promoting conservation efforts. Technological advances have made monitoring and studying white sharks in their natural habitats easier, including using satellite transmitters and drones.
Tagging sharks with satellite transmitters involves attaching a small transmitter to the shark’s dorsal fin and sending signals to satellites that allow scientists to track the shark’s location and movements in near-real time. Researchers have been able to track the movements of these sharks and have found them diving down to depths of over 200 meters and roaming as far as 1,500 kilometres from their starting point.
Satellite tagging has provided valuable insights into the migratory patterns of great white sharks in New Zealand. Researchers have found that these sharks travel great distances, with some individuals travelling between New Zealand and their feeding grounds in Australia or the Pacific Islands. This information is essential for understanding white shark populations’ overall health and developing effective conservation strategies.
Another technology currently in use to track white sharks in New Zealand is drones. Drones can capture aerial footage of sharks in their natural habitats, allowing researchers to study their behaviour and movements without disturbing them. These studies are particularly important for studying the social behaviour of white sharks, which are known to form loose aggregations during certain times of the year.
This research has uncovered some fascinating insights into the behaviour of great white sharks in New Zealand. For example, researchers have found that these sharks spend more time in shallow waters near the coast during summer when prey is more abundant. Even so, great white shark populations in New Zealand are relatively small, with estimates ranging from 1000-2000 individuals. Most tourism sightings of great white sharks in New Zealand occur around the coast of the North Island, particularly in the Bay of Plenty and Northland regions.
In addition, using new technology, scientists have discovered that great white sharks in New Zealand tend to be smaller than their counterparts in other parts of the world, which may be due to differences in diet or ecosystem. In addition to tracking and studying white sharks, researchers in New Zealand also use satellite transmitters and drones to promote public safety. Monitoring the movements of tagged sharks can alert beachgoers and water users when sharks are present in the area, helping to prevent potentially dangerous encounters.
Despite their fearsome reputation, great white sharks are essential to New Zealand’s marine ecosystem, helping maintain a healthy balance of predator and prey. As long as visitors and researchers respect these animals and follow responsible viewing guidelines, New Zealand’s white sharks will continue to be a source of wonder and fascination for years.
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