June 29, 2017
Aggressive Great White Shark 'Behavioral Changes' Spur Proposed Diving Ban In New Zealand

The behavior of great white sharks around New Zealand's Stewart Island has notably changed, according to local Paua divers, prompting authorities to call for a ban on local shark diving in light of the increasingly aggressive predators.

New Zealand First, a conservative political party, is calling for the ban on commercial shark diving companies after the Paua divers reached out to parliament earlier this year for help. The Paua divers assert that the shark diving companies are responsible for changing the behavior of the local great white population, which numbers around 100 sharks, according to the New Zealand Herald. They point to the practice of baiting sharks employed by the dive companies, saying that it trains the animals to associate human beings with food.

NZ First MP Clayton Mitchell noted the frequency with which great whites were being observed by local fishermen, asserting that the sharks are seen every day. He alleged that this amounted to a change in the sharks' behavior, raising fears among the local Paua divers who make their living in the shark-infested waters.

"They are very, very concerned about their safety. It's not a matter of if there's an incident, but when and how often," he noted. "Those close encounters are happening more frequently, to the point where on a daily basis when people are going out there and dropping a fishing line into the ocean, sharks are coming up. That's behavioral change."

As Newstalk ZB notes, Stewart Island boasts a population of around 250 people. Of those, Mitchell says he has spoken to at least 200 who support a moratorium on the island's two shark diving operators. As Mitchell was quick to point out, however, many residents are not opposed to the businesses as much as where they are permitted to operate.

Sightings of white sharks have become increasingly common in New Zealand over recent years, and researchers believe the North Island may be home to a nursery for young sharks. Earlier this year, scientists observed a record gathering of juvenile white sharks in Kaipara Harbor, documenting 11 different individuals over the course of two days. As the Inquisitr previously reported, the researchers were able to tag several of the sharks, revealing their movements as they circled the island.

Last year, the New Zealand government stepped in to regulate the shark diving operators at Stewart Island. The companies must now obtain permits to operate and are limited in their choice of bait to attract the great white sharks that provide their livelihood.

[Photo by Ryan Pierse/ Getty Images]