Whānau shocked to discover three sharks in Northland rockpool

A whānau in Ahipara ended 2020 with a shock of a lifetime when they discovered three sharks swimming in a remote rockpool.

On Thursday evening, Christel Snowden, 35, and her uncle Gordy Kilgour, 53, had taken some of the kids out to the rockpools at Tanutanu – a beach break on a sandy/rocky beach, located south of Tauroa Point, south west of Ahipara.

Kilgour, an experienced diver, was seeking kina when he heard the five kids Nevaeh, Lotte, Zienna, Zary and Rylee, suddenly start shouting and screaming that there were sharks in a nearby rockpool.

Thinking the children had simply seen a stingray, Kilgour hummed the song ‘Baby Shark’ as he approached the supposed shark-infested rockpool, but was shocked to find the children were right – there were three School Sharks or Kapeta swimming there.

Snowden, who was away from the rockpools at the beach, heard the commotion and didn’t believe the children either.

“They kept yelling out to us, ‘there’s sharks, there’s sharks in the water’, and pointing,” she said.

“We didn’t believe them until they started screaming.”

After taking a quick look, Snowden rushed back to get a camera and drone to capture the rare moment. It appeared as though the sharks had entered the rockpools at high tide and been caught out when it receded.

“We were splashing the water and [the sharks] were quite curious, they were almost like looking up at us.”

The sighting garnered mixed reactions from the children, aged between four and 14. It was four-year-old Nevaeh who was the least scared and had to be physically restrained to stop her jumping in to play with the sharks.

“I was trying to hold Nevaeh back because she was all excited … but then the older kids, they were shocked, they were freaked out and they didn’t go anywhere near the rockpools after that.”

Snowden and her whānau whakapapa to Ahipara and camp there every year around this time, but had never seen such a sight. Snowden brushed off any worries about the next visit, but said they’d check the rockpools twice in the future.

“I think we’ll just stick to the small rockpools and we’ll definitely make sure we check for sharks.”

Ahipara kaitiaki (guardian) Lisa McNab said Snowden’s was one of two live shark sightings at Tanutanu recently, but said such sightings were rare.

However, she encouraged whānau and visitors to stay vigilant.

“I know a lot of whānau, when they go out diving, the kids splash around in the rockpools and start looking for kina, but it’s just about being wary, to take care and before you hop in, check it out first.”

McNab was a member of the recently formed Ahipara Takiwā kaitiaki group, which featured whānau from across the three Ahipara marae who were passionate about preserving the area’s natural resources.

She said it was a good opportunity to remind people that freedom camping was not allowed in the area and she encouraged anyone driving on the beach to avoid leaving rubbish and avoid driving on the dunes.

School sharks/Kapeta (Galeorhinus galeus) are also known as topes, grey boys, lemonfish, soupfin sharks. They grew to a maximum length of 1.8 metres.

Department of Conservation marine scientist Clinton Duffy said the Ahipara sharks appeared to be mature or subadult, just over 1.2m. He said they were harmless to humans but did have small, sharp teeth.

“It is very unusual to see sharks in rockpools in New Zealand, even ones as large as this, so assuming that they weren’t put in there by fishers as a prank, they must have been trapped by the falling tide,” he said.

“Given how hot it has been lately, it is likely that they were quite stressed by the rise in temperature, which affects their physiology, and also reduces oxygen content of the water in the pool over low water, as well as the confined space.”

Duffy said school sharks and rig (Mustelus lenticulatus) were the main commercially exploited species of shark in New Zealand waters, primarily landed for their meat which was used in fish and chips.

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