Simple Rules When Interacting with Marine Mammals this Summer

December 7, 2016

Whilst not directly shark related, we felt it important to pass on these simple rules published by Department of Conservation.


While you are out on the water this summer, if you do encounter a white shark, we would love to hear about your encounter and see any images you may have taken so we can attempt to ID the animal from the growing New Zealand ID database.

Contact us at

Stay Safe on the Water this Summer!


Meet a Shark Scientist: Brit Finucci

January 14, 2016
There is a lot of exciting shark research happening around the world as well as in NZ; we were lucky to get to know some and find out about their work. Meet Brit Finucci, a PhD candidate working on deep sea sharks and Chimaeras (elasmobranchs related to sharks and rays) at Victoria University Wellington. She is in her second year of her PhD after pursuing her master’s degree at Victoria. Originally hailing from just outside of Toronto, Canada, she has been in New Zealand for the last four years. Brit took some time to answer a few of our questions about herself and her work.

When did you first develop your passion for sharks?

To be honest, I’m not someone who always thought they were destined to study sharks. My interest in sharks first came about when I was 19. I was on a boat in Mexico, heading out to see the whale sharks that aggregate in the area during the summer. I was not feeling that great on the boat so in an attempt to make me feel better, I was thrown overboard and left in the water with the whale sharks. They were just so big and docile, it was an amazing experience.

Wow, we bet it was! What made you decide to study them?

After seeing the whale sharks in Mexico, I went back to Toronto and got involved with some conservation organizations working on shark projects. When I moved to NZ, I wanted to continue this work and conveniently, my timing coincided with the review of the National Plan of Action for Sharks (NPOA), the framework which oversees the conservation and management of sharks in NZ waters. I spent quite a bit of time involved with this project, which allowed me get to know the shark community in NZ, as well as realize there are lots of research opportunities in NZ shark science. Taking on my PhD has allowed me to shift from a conservation and management focus to more science and fisheries work, and I think that’s been a great opportunity to remain open-minded and work with a wide variety of stakeholders on shark projects.

What is your research focusing on?

My research focuses on several deep-sea sharks and chimaeras (shark relatives) found in New Zealand waters. These species are caught as bycatch, meaning they are unintentionally caught by fisheries. We know very little about these sharks so we have no idea what effect, if any, fishing pressures are having on their populations. A big chunk of my work looks at the biology of these animals, assessing characteristics such as length at maturity, fecundity (reproductive ability and rate), and diet. I also spend time analyzing scientific research trawl surveys, looking at species distributions and behavioural characteristics, such as aggregations and determining if populations are segregated (by size, sex, maturity stage). All of these aspects can help us better understand if these animals are biologically vulnerable to fishing pressures. I hope this work will then be put forth for both conservation purposes (IUCN status listings), as well as management efforts (sustainable fishing measurements, risk assessments).

That sounds great! It’s certainly important to fill in the gaps with respect to the lesser-known species of sharks. What are some of the challenges you have come upon during your research?

One common challenge I’ve had to deal with is the lack of specimens I have to work with. Some of the species I work on are quite uncommon to come across – we’re not sure if this is because these animals are naturally found in low numbers, if they live somewhere we’re not looking, or if they have already been affected by overfishing. On top of that, when I do get specimens, they are not always the ones I want or need for my study. It can be very hard to get a sample size of a species that represents the entire range of sizes, maturity stages, and include both males and females. Ideally, you want a good representative sample size to make good conclusions about the biology of a species. This is where working together with other shark scientists and the fishing community is very important. I’ve been very fortunate to have a great network of people across the country keeping an eye out for specimens for me.

It’s encouraging to know the community of shark scientists and fishers are collaborating on such important work to increase our knowledge. When you consider shark conservation initiatives in NZ, do you think that we are on the right track? If so, what are we doing right? If not, what can we do to improve shark conservation in NZ waters?

NZ has large diversity of shark species – 113 and counting! Some of these species are also endemic to NZ waters – as in, they’re found no where else in the world. So I think NZ has a responsibility to be a leader in shark conservation and management efforts. In recent years, we’ve seen NZ participate in management actions such as reviewing the NPOA and signing onto the international binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks, and NZ should continue to play a role in the global community. On a more local scale, I’ve found there is a great network of researchers and experts willing to support and share information and ideas, which is fantastic and very important for making any shark project successful. I think one thing to work on is identifying areas that are of particular importance to sharks (pupping grounds, nurseries) and investing in ways to reduce shark bycatch.

It sounds like the future of shark research has solid directions in which to move. How can we as individuals work to help protect sharks?

A simple but perhaps not obvious way to help sharks is to make smart choices about the type of seafood you eat. In many countries, NZ included, sharks are caught as significant bycatch. These animals are often dead by the time they reach the surface,  and with no commercial value, are discarded. It’s a very wasteful practice. If you do eat seafood, you should know where it came from, how it’s caught, and what species it is (fish are often called by other names to sound more appealing to consumers). Support sustainable efforts and local markets. Forest and Bird has a free “Best Fish Guide” (currently being updated) which can help you make informed decisions about seafood selections in NZ.

Forest & Bird Best Fish Guide

Great advice. Do you have any words of wisdom for folks who want to share their passion for sharks? How about for those who want to study them?

My advice for those who want to get into shark research would be not to forget that the term “shark” can be applied to any of the cartilaginous fish, which also includes the “flat sharks” (skates and rays), and chimaeras. These species are generally understudied, some are heavily exploited, and many are also considered some of the most at risk shark species. There’s definitely a need for more research on these lesser known species.

Prickly dogfish (Oxynotus bruniensis) specimen. Photo by Brit Finucci

Prickly dogfish (Oxynotus bruniensis) specimen. Photo by Brit Finucci

Hopeful shark researchers, take note! Finally, do you have a favourite species of shark?

Easy – one of my study species, prickly dogfish! The prickly dogfish (Oxynotus bruniensis) is found around New Zealand and Australian waters, and is one of five rough sharks (from the family Oxynotidae) which are found around the world. It’s my favourite shark because it’s so unique looking! Prickly dogfish have a massive sail-like dorsal fin, big eyes that give it a dopey-looking appearance, and as its name suggests, super prickly skin! One other thing that makes this species so unique is its diet. While I still have some things to confirm, it looks like the prickly dogfish has a very specialized diet, feeding only on the eggs of other sharks and chimaeras!

They sound very cool! Thank you so much for your time Brit, we’ve learned a lot and we hope our readers have too. You can follow Brit’s work on Twitter (@BritFinucci) and Instagram (@britfinucci). 


December 24, 2015

White shark research has been conducted arguably since the last 1960’s, but in New Zealand it has only been ongoing for the last 10 years.  Initial studies commenced at the Chatham Islands in 2005.  GmapChatsAt that time white sharks were known to frequent the Chatham Islands and it was considered a potential  ‘aggregation’ site. However popular opinion was that white shark sightings elsewhere in New Zealand were individuals that had strayed off course from Australia and there was no ‘resident populations’.

The research project that initially kicked things off was a joint venture between the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and the Department of Conservation (DoC), headed up by Dr Malcolm Francis (NIWA) and Clinton Duffy (DoC).  The reason for the interest in white sharks in New Zealand was driven by ongoing international concern about their conservation status, particularly their listing on Appendix 1 and 2 of the Convention on Migratory Species, and the almost complete lack of any robust information on the species in New Zealand waters. Knowledge of their low reproductive and growth rates also suggested that reported levels of fishing mortality could be causing their population to decline.  Little is known about the habitat requirements of white sharks, their seasonal behaviour patterns, or their interactions with fisheries.   It was felt that an improved understanding of where they are at what times, and their migratory patterns would allow strategies for reducing bycatch to be developed.  The initial objectives of the project were:

  1. Describe the movements and habitats of these sharks in New Zealand and the SW Pacific.
  2. Identify areas of overlap with fisheries inside and outside New Zealand’s EEZ
  3. Investigate the use of photo-ID as a fishery independent method of monitoring population trends.

The Chatham Islands posed a number of obstacles the scientists had to contend with, rough weather and their remote location being the biggest issues.

Chatham Islands

Chatham Islands

Four pop-off archival satellite tags provided by Dr Ramon Bonfil and the Wildlife Conservation Society, NY, were deployed at the Star Keys in 2005 and numerous other large white sharks were observed.   Those early tags quickly opened new insight into migratory movements of New Zealand white sharks, most notably that the sharks tagged at the Chathams were not migrating between South Australia and New Zealand as expected.   All of the tagged sharks moved north of New Zealand to the Louisville Ridge and New Caledonia.  Based upon the success of that expedition it was possible to secure funding for further satellite tagging and eventually expand the programme to other parts of New Zealand, notably Stewart Island.

Research commenced at Stewart Island in 2007 and has been ongoing there ever since.  Initially, the programme focussed on satellite tagging but was expanded to include photo-identification of individual white sharks using their markings, and acoustic tagging to study fine scale movements. Among other things, it is hoped that the photo-identification project will enable estimation of population size and trend at Stewart Island, removing reliance on traditional tagging methodologies and fisheries by-catch data.  The acoustic tagging study involved the deployment of an array of acoustic receivers around the Titi Islands, Ruapuke Island and Paterson Inlet.

Stewart Island

Stewart Island

Satellite tagging of Stewart Island sharks confirmed they also undertake a seasonal migration to subtropical and tropical regions of the southwest Pacific. Perhaps most importantly the tagging undertaken at the Chatham Islands and Stewart Island has shown that sharks do not appear to move between these locations, although they mix off northern New Zealand and outside New Zealand waters.

Meanwhile,  Clinton Duffy also became interested in the movements of juvenile white sharks which were occasionally reported by commercial and recreational fishermen around the upper North Island, in particular the Manukau and Kaipara harbours.    The first satellite tag deployment was on a 2.1 m TL male in Manukau Harbour in February 2006, and this was eventually followed by another deployments on a 3.2m TL female named Kate off Gisborne in September 2009.   Unfortunately both tags came of the sharks prematurely.  However, both were recovered and provided detailed information on the short-term diving behaviour of both sharks.

In 2011 the first shark was successfully tagged in the Manukau with a SPOT and PAT tag. The 2.4m TL female (Marina) was tracked out of the Manukau and up the west coast to Cape Maria Van Diemen and Cape Reinga where her SPOT tag ceased to transmit (possibly due to the battery going flat).

Clinton Duffy attaches the PAT Tag to Marina's Dorsal Fin

Clinton Duffy attaches the PAT Tag to Marina’s Dorsal Fin

Her PAT tag continued to function and it detached off the East Coast of Australia and was recovered on a beach in southern Queensland.  The tag was returned to Clinton and the information is currently being analysed.  We hoped to hear about her movements in detail this year but unfortunately there has been insufficient time to start analysis.

In the summer of 2012 tagging expeditions continued in the Kaipara with one shark a 1.8m TL male named Scotty successfully PAT tagged and a number of other small white sharks seen.  In January 2013 a 1.5 m TL male was SPOT tagged in Kaipara Harbour but no transmissions were ever received.  The reason for this is unknown.  No sharks were tagged off the North Island in 2014.  From 2010 through to the summer of 2015 a number of white sharks were encountered on each expedition however tagging success was low.  This was attributed to the very low water clarity and the method of capture that was being deployed during this time period.   However the annual expeditions to Stewart Island proved extremely fruitful both in terms of the tagging studies but also the development of the photo ID database, which now includes more than 120 individuals.  The team deployed acoustic tags and set up an acoustic array to further investigate fine scale movements of sharks in the research area.  60 sharks received acoustic tags and the fine scale study revealed some interesting information of their movements.  One such revelation was the fact that the acoustic array set up around a local salmon farm actually got no hits at all.  It was expected that the nets, and any escapees would attract seals and so also attract white sharks.  This was not the case.

The Kiapara expeditions were assisted by IGFA member and expert sport fisherman, Scott Tindale on the Red October.  Scott applied his years of experience with game fishing and developed a new method of catching the sharks which was put into practice in 2015.  In addition to Scotts help with a new rig the expedition took a different approach exploring the Kaipara harbour and tried a different location – less the 5 km from Shelly Beach.  This changes in catch approach and location brought a change in success and on the first day out a total of 8 white sharks were seen, six were actually hooked by us, and three were tagged.   The first to be tagged was a 2.2m TL male (Thomas D).  This shark was tagged with both a SPLASH and a PAT tag. He was quickly followed by a 2.1m TL female (Caitlin) which was tagged with a SPOT tag.


Catlin’s dorsal fin and SPOT tag

The last,  tagged towards the end of the day, was a 3.4m TL female.  She was tagged with a PAT tag and given the name ‘Sue’.


Sue with PAT tag

The following day a further three sharks were hooked but no tags were deployed.  Two weeks later another three sharks were hooked with two being successfully tagged – a 2.5m TL female named ‘Lea’ which was tagged with a SPOT and a mini-PAT tag, and a 3.3m TL female named Cindy that was PAT tagged.

There have been no further white sharks successfully tagged this year, however tracking the ones tagged in January provided interesting data.  Catlin was the shark that ‘reported back’ most and she was tracked throughout the year travelling.  Initially she appeared to be heading toward Pandora Bank or possibly Spirits Bay.


Catlin’s movements along Ninety Mile Beach in 2015. index6

However she returned to the Kaipara in June, travelling from Pandora Bank averaging a travelling speed of 3.24 km p/hr.   Clinton was particularly interested to see if she would stop sending signals once she entered the harbour as it could indicate a change to more bottom-orientated foraging behaviour which snapper also do in turbid water.





The 2.5 m female (Lea) tagged on Jan 8th proved to be rather secretive.  The first fix on her tag was received north of the Graveyard off Lake Wairere on Jan 14th followed  by a single fix 4.7 km outside the bar.  Thereafter the were no signals to indicate where she was.  Equally nothing heard from the 3.3 and 3.4 m females that were PAT tagged.  This is not to say the tags were not working as  often a lack of signals can be due to the wet/dry sensor or aerial being fouled, or simply due to the shark spending only very brief periods of time at the surface.  With a lack of regular report backs, recovery of the tag is vital.

‘Cindy’, the 3.3 m TL female  on 8 Feb 2015 released her pop-off tag earlier than expected and started transmitting from over the Tonga Trench about 260 km southeast of Tongatapu, water depth a bit shy of 6000 m in August 2015.  This has allowed for some data to be transferred, however as the tag has not been recovered, there is no detailed report of her movements.

Sue, the 3.4 m female caught in Kaipara River on 17 January however the tag started transmitting from a position 219 km southeast if Isle Hunter (Hunter Island) on Hunter Ridge; 707 km Southeast of New Caledonia and 739 km Southwest of Viti Levu, Fiji.

Finally, the mini-PAT tag on Lea, the 2.5 m female  started transmitting four days later than expected in November. There were no position fixes from the transmissions and the tag then went silent again after three days before Clinton obtained a position fix from this tag in the Tasman Sea 114 km west of the Challenger Plateau (619 km west of Cape Egmont). This shark’s SPOT tag last transmitted close to Pandora Bank, off Cape Maria Van Diemen.  It looks like it may be on its way back to New Zealand from eastern Australia so it was hoped the tag continued to transmit in order to reconstruct its track to confirm that the theory.

We were hoping to assist in deployment of another 6 tags before the end of the year, however weather conditions this spring and summer so far have prevented any opportunity to get back out on the water.










North Island Tagging

January 31, 2015

January 17th and 18th and 25th we were fortunate to be invited to assist tagging white sharks once more for the continued study and research of their fine scale movements around the North Island. The three days were spent around the Kaipara Harbour, an area long known to be popular for encountering pointers.


From left: Bruce Goorney (WSCT), Clinton Duffy, David Romeril, Scott Tindale (skipper)


Red October sporting a WSCT logo!

We have joined expeditions on the Kaipara in past years, but apart from the occasional ‘hook-up’, success has been minimal. This has been made all the more frustrating with numerous reports being made (at times, weekly) from recreational fishermen encountering white sharks, and commercial fishermen finding them tearing through their nets in the harbour.


Even it seems Auckland City Council have had more success in seeing them than us!

We have always known they are there – but they have always remained elusive to us… Till now!

Saturday 17th of Jan was the turning point and that, it has to be said, is an understatement with seven ‘hook-ups’ and an eighth shark estimated at 3.4 meters found swimming around our anchor buoy’s on return from the second successful tag deployment. The sharks ranged from approximately 2 meters total length (TL) to 3.5 meters. Two smaller juvenile sharks, a 2.1 m TL female named Caitlin, and a 2.2 m TL male named Thomas D were tagged along with a third female named Sue, estimated at 3.5m TL. Four tags were deployed in total.  A SPLASH and a PAT tag on Thomas D, a SPOT tag on Catlin. and a PAT tag on Sue.


SPOT tag on Thomas D (2.1 m TL male) Dorsal Fin


PAT tag on Sue (3.4 m TL Female)

Both the SPLASH and SPOT tags started to generate data within 48 hours of deployment as can be seen on the ARGOS map images below.


Thomas D’s movements over the first 72 hours


Caitlin’s movents ov the first 72 hours

The rigs being used all had re-curved barbless hooks which contributed to the low numbers successfully brought to the boat and tagged. Barbless re-curved hooks were used to ensure deep hooking could not occur and the hook could be easily extracted .


One of the hooks used that was spat out before the shark could be tagged.

The draw-back to this rig is if tension is lost on the line the hook will usually fall out of the animal’s mouth, however this does mean if the shark bites through the leader or trace the hook will fall out causing minimal injury.

Sunday 18th of Jan was less successful with only three ‘hook-ups’ and no successful tag deployment, however in comparison to past years on the Kaipara, even this was considered a success in its own right.  The following Sunday 25th we headed out again, but sadly on this day we struck out without a single hook up, however, data obtained since that first weekend showed us that Caitlin,  the 2.1 m female had headed north and is about 10 km off Ninety Mile Beach on a nw heading. Since we tagged her she has travelled about 452 km, giving a rate of movement/ displacement of about 41 km per day.


Thomas D, the 2.2 m male is still going around in circles about 22 km off Manukau Harbour!

News has travelled fast and on Jan 31st the Herald published a short article about the expedition.  You can read the article here!.

A look back at 2014 for the White Shark Conservation Trust

January 2, 2015

2014 was our quietest year since we started in 2009 from all angles.

Our Facebook presence was largely dominated by the events in Western Australia which we have been following now for a number of years. This year marked the trail of a cull order by their premier, Collin Barnett. An order advised against by shark scientists in Australia and around the world.

perth cull

Photo credit:

By the time the trail had ceased well over 100 sharks had been taken on the set drum lines, but not one of the target species  (white sharks), had been caught.  The cull order was met with protest and disgust by Western Australians and through social media, the rest of the world.  (An anti cull rally was organised by Shark Aid International in the UK outside the Australian Embassy in London in protest).  The cull order was lifted in September and in October a surfer survived an incident which resulted in two pointers being caught and destroyed.  In November a dead whale was filmed off Perth with a number of sharks including at least one white shark swimming around it whilst a local was filmed climbing onto the floating carcass (not the brightest of moves we must say).


Photo credit: Perth Now

In December a pointer was seen close to beaches off southern WA, and again the WA Fisheries department deployed drum lines to attempt to kill the shark.  This particular shark had been tagged in 2013 by the WA Fisheries department and their actions sparked worldwide protest again.  Thankfully the shark left the area without incident and the drum lines were removed.  Finally, sadly at the end of December a young spear-fisherman was attacked and killed by what was reported to be a white shark at Cheynes Beach WA triggering another hunt for the shark by the WA Fisheries dept.


More relevantly, we have had a number of reported sightings around our coast throughout the year and one incident in February at Porpoise Bay, in the Catlins area of eastern Southland coast when a surfer was bitten on the leg by a juvenile pointer.  The 28-year-old UK immigrant apparently punched the shark on the nose and swam to shore.

In March, NIWA and Department of Conservation returned to Stewart Island for the last time to tag and track white sharks that aggregate there, marking the end of a 10 year research project.

Photo credit, Clinton Duffy 2014

Photo credit, Clinton Duffy 2014

Three juvenile white sharks were followed during 2014, Pip, a 3.3m female shark; Caro, a 3.7m female; and Nicholas Cage, a 3.5m male shark. Pip was tracked across to New South Wales near Sydney, and data showed she took 20 days to travel 2020km from the southern Snares Shelf. She continued  northwards to Queensland waters.  Caro remained around Stewart Island for several months before starting begin her northward migration.  Nicholas Cage was tracked north as far as New Caledonia before turning round to return to our west coast.

Image Credit: NIWA

Image Credit: NIWA

The 10 year study showed that the sharks travel in a remarkably straight line on their migrations, averaging about 5km/h or 100 km/day, but have done up to 150km a day.  Data indicated they tend to spend time at the surface but also make regular dives between 200 and 800m – the record depth is 1246m.  For further information click here.

 In August we were fortunate enough to be invited to attend a necropsy of a juvenile white shark that was accidentally caught in a commercial set net off New Plymouth.  10626542_966289726730626_8634576691192716040_nThe fishermen concerned found the shark dead and contacted Department of Conservation who donated the shark to the museum. The shark was a 2.6TL juvenile male weighing 140kg. Parasites were collected both externally and internally for examination. The shark’s head was removed and has been preserved in order to CT and MRI scan it for research.

September we were invited to present a seminar to the Auckland Zoological Society.  Our seminar was based on the changes in public perception toward the White Shark over the last 50 years and looked at how the white shark was initially portrayed by Blue Water, White Death (the first white shark documentary), and Jaws in the 1970’s and compared this to the documentaries and attitudes of today.

In December a small group of experts and cinematographers set off to attempt to tag and track white sharks migrating north from the Three Kings area.  Among the team was Clinton Duffey, Andy Brandy Casagrande and Kina Scollay (not in image).IMG_4122Unfortunately the expedition was hampered by bad weather and was unsuccessful.

Finally, just after Christmas a family out fishing for snapper in Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour got a big surprise when their bait was taken by a white shark which breached not far from their boat and was estimated to be between 4 and 4.5 meters!  The shark continued further in to the harbour, reportedly passed Point Chevalier travelling towards the Rosebank peninsular (where our head office is located!!!).

Here is to a busy 2015!


2014 New Zealand Zoological Society Seminar

August 10, 2014

2014 New Zealand Zoological Society SeminarClick here for more information