Environment

NZ police open fire as shark attacks and kills lone swimmer

NEW ZEALAND police opened fire on a shark that killed a man at an Auckland beach on Wednesday afternoon.

Inspector Shawn Rutene said the man, in his 40s, had been swimming alone from Maori Bay to Muriwai Beach, several hundred metres from shore, about 1.30pm local time, when a four-metre shark struck.

New Zealand hunts for killer shark

Police unsure whether a shark responsible for the death of a man at Auckland's Muriwai Beach has been killed, despite firing shots at the creature.

It took police and lifeguards - who knew the victim - about 30 minutes to recover the body as two sharks circled.

Inspector Rutene said a police officer fired at the two sharks.

Scene of an ugly death … Muriwai Beach, where the fatal attack took place.
Scene of an ugly death … Muriwai Beach, where the fatal attack took place. Photo: Lawrence Smith

''We don't know whether he hit it, but it rolled off and disappeared,'' he said.

Police were unable to confirm the species of shark, but the Department of Conservation confirmed great whites had been spotted in the area as recently as last weekend.

Beaches north of Manukau Harbour were to be closed for the next two days and helicopters will patrol the area until Thursday.

Fisherman Pio Mose said he had seen a man swimming. ''All of a sudden … we saw the shark fin and, next minute - boom - attack him, then blood everywhere on the water,'' he said.

Some of the witnesses.
Some of the witnesses. Photo: Lawrence Smith

Mr Mose called emergency services while a friend went for help. ''He was still alive, he put his head up, we called him to swim over to the rock to where we were,'' he said.

''He raised his hand up, and then while he was raising his hand up we saw another attack pull him in the water.

A lifeguards' boat chases the killer shark, possibly a great white.
A lifeguards' boat chases the killer shark, possibly a great white. Photo: Lawrence Smith

''He came back up, his head was on the water … then we noticed he was already dead.''

He heard the police then fire shots from their helicopter, and also heard a few shots from a lifeguards' boat. ''I don't know if they got the shark, killed the shark or not,'' Mr Mose said.

There have been 14 known fatal shark attacks in New Zealand since records began about 1837, said the department's shark expert, Clinton Duffy.

''In the last 20 years we have been averaging two shark incidents, where the shark actually bites someone, a year,'' Mr Duffy said.

''Those are generally on swimmers and generally result in fairly superficial flesh wounds.''

The last death was in 2009, when a kayaker was mauled by a great white in Coromandel waters - although whether he drowned before the shark found him is still disputed. Before that the last death was in 1976.

Shark attacks around the world have increased every decade since 1900. Last year's tally of 12 fatalities, with three in Australia, was almost three times the average of 4.3 from 2001 to 2010, according to the International Shark Attack File.

Fairfax NZ News