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Summer of the Shark!

Written by Dan Westerkamp on December 28th, 2017.      0 comments


Fresh news from the water by Dan Westerkamp!

Great whites spotted in Auckland, sharks spotted off local beaches, hottest water temperature on record, this is the summer of the shark…

It seems that every year, about this time the news reporters begin thinking of headlines that will hype up the public into thinking their little local beach is going to be the next scene for jaws. The truth however, is that with more and more people entering the shark’s environment (the ocean) there is going to be an increase in the number of shark sightings and encounters. Not because shark numbers are increasing, in fact over 73 million sharks are killed annually by catch and shark fishing. So, no there aren’t more sharks, it’s just more people are spending more time in the water!
Having been an underwater photographer for several years I have actively sought out sharks to photograph. In New Zealand, I have had the opportunity to swim with Mako sharks & Bronze Whalers whilst overseas I have spearfished around and photographed black tip, white tip, grey tips and grey sharks….

Although I have been spearfishing for over 10 years I should admit I have never seen a shark, until I went to Tahiti and was surrounded with them every day…. Tahiti was an enjoyable experience as I could always see where they were and they were generally minding their own business. In New Zealand, however I knew it would be a different story.

dan shark1-932 The more time you spend in the water the more chance you have of seeing one, and finally after 10 years of spearfishing all over New Zealand I had my first shark spearing experience. As it turns out it was my first dive of the summer season, a day after the sensationalist headlines on the news, coincidence???
dan shark2-935

On a calm Tuesday afternoon, we set out in search of kingfish. Peering over the side we were greeted with hazy green water and 6 metres visibility at best, not ideal but it was enough.

Drifting over to the pinnacle the temperature on my Jack Seac freediving watch read a toasty 21 degrees. With the current ripping past and schools of bait around we thought we were in luck.

Sure enough, within minutes a pack of decent kingfish cruised through, my mate let fly on the biggest one and the fight began. A well-placed shot, I sat back and watched the battle unfolding. Cruising at about 6m it suddenly dived deep in to the kelp as up from the depths came 3 enormous bronze whalers. With 3 big sharks now in hot pursuit we had our doubts on whether we would be getting this fish back in one piece.

Deciding that the kelp was not a good hiding place the Kingi raced towards us. The three sharks following in close behind. Even though they were all bigger than us they made the decision we could cause them some trouble so turned off in opposite directions disappearing in to the murk.


Had we won? not yet. The biggest one decided he needed another look and turned around and came up from the bottom in a non-aggressive manor. I dived down to meet him and got to see how big it really was, playing chicken and showing that I was superior he decided I wasn’t a meal and slowly cruised off into the depths. Returning to the surface I was greeted with cheers and high fives from the other guys absolutely stoked on their first shark experience.

Thanks to shark week, jaws and other horror stories, the thought of meeting a shark can be a scary one but for spearfisherman sharks are a common occurrence. You’re in their environment, taking their food and attracting them with injured and bleeding fish. Remember like any wild animal they are unpredictable and there are things you can do to reduce the chance of a shark encounter.

To begin with don’t make yourself a human burley bomb, don’t attach fish to yourself or even a float line, instead use a float boat to keep the fish and blood out of the water. Also pick your dive times, don’t dive late in the evening, always dive with a buddy and if you do see sharks or know they are present don’t shoot any fish, its more than likely the fish will be taken and wasted and you could over excite the sharks which means they could make a mistake...

Sharks are not cute fluffy animals, but they are not mindless man-eating killers that bite anything they see. As my experience showed, they are usually just curious and want to see what you are.

If you do find yourself lucky?!? enough to be in a water with a shark this summer, stay calm, show them respect and enjoy the experience. Oh and count yourself lucky, they have been swimming in our oceans for over 400 million years!!

Dan encounter