Spear fishermen say plans to lure great white sharks with a burley trail off the Kapiti coast in New Zealand will turn divers into shark bait.
A shark expert hopes to attract the great whites alongside a boat today and attach electronic monitoring tags to collect data on the endangered fish.
A four-metre white pointer was photographed by divers at the weekend off Kapiti Island, but there is growing speculation that several big sharks may be cruising the coast after various sightings.
Wellington spear fisherman Murray Cambie, 36, free dives most weekends off Kapiti Island’s northern tip in the hunt for kingfish.
He and friends dive in 20 to 30 metres of water and occasionally see bronze whaler sharks.
But Mr Cambie was “not that keen” on having a close encounter with a great white – which are known to confuse humans for seals – and he felt the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research shark hunt was irresponsible.
There were 10 to 15 divers in the water around Kapiti on any given day and the North Island spear fishing championships were scheduled there next month, he said.
“It’s a bit different when you’re in a boat, but out there swimming with them, it’s not something I’m overly keen on.
“It would see you before you see it. If it decided to have a go at you, the first thing you’re going to know is when it’s latching on to you.”
His dive buddy, Quentin Long, 35, of Raumati, said Niwa should set up an alert system with Kapiti boating radio to get immediate sighting updates from boaties.
Niwa shark expert Malcolm Francis said today’s excursion was dependent on visibility, after heavy rain, because sharks had to follow the burley trail.
He had learnt of another sighting of a big shark off Kapiti Island, this one by a spear fisherman on New Year’s Day.
“He saw a tail disappearing into the murk. It looks like one or more sharks have been hanging around there for a few days.”
Dr Francis was aware of divers’ concerns, and would ensure no one was in the water when setting the burley trail.
But he said many fishermen used burley, and spear fishermen were just as likely to attract sharks with their wounded underwater catch.
“The sharks are already there, so we’re not attracting them.”