New Zealand Bans Killing of Great White Sharks

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, December 1, 2006 (ENS) - Great white sharks will be fully protected within the 200 nautical miles of water around New Zealand, and from fishing by New Zealand flagged boats further afield, the ministers of conservation and fisheries announced today. Violaters will be hit with a large fine and up to six months in prison.

The species, also known as the white pointer shark, will be protected under the Wildlife Act. Starting next April, it will be illegal to hunt, kill or harm a great white shark within New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone, 200 nautical miles from shore. It will also be illegal in New Zealand to possess or trade in any part of a great white shark.

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Great white sharks can grow to be six meters (20 feet) long and weigh as much as 2,260 kilograms (5,000 pounds). (Photo courtesy WWF-UK)
"These majestic animals occur naturally in low numbers and, without protection, could be pushed to the brink of extinction," said Conservation Minister Chris Carter.

"The Wildlife Act provides a strong deterrent against targeting great whites with a NZ$250,000 (US$172,000) fine and up to six months imprisonment as a maximum penalty," Carter said.

New Zealand’s largest national conservation organization welcomed the new protection for these sharks.

“Great white sharks have undeservedly had a bad rap, and are mistakenly believed by many people to pose a serious danger to humans," said Kirstie Knowles of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society. "In fact shark attacks are very rare in New Zealand waters and you are more likely to be killed by being struck by lightning than by a great white shark.”

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A great white shark is brought aboard a conseration research vessel. (Photo by H. Fener courtesy WCS)
There have been nine non-fatal shark attacks in New Zealand since 1990 and no fatal attacks since the 1960s.

The great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, is the largest species of shark, with adult females, larger than the males, reaching seven meters (22 feet) in length. The heaviest recorded great white weighed in at 2.5 metric tons.

Carter said despite the great white's reputation as an apex predator, it is vulnerable to fishing and becoming rarer throughout the world.

Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said the great white sharks are not known to be targeted by commercial fishing but are occasionally taken, unintentionally, as by-catch.

Fishers accidentally catching and killing great whites will not be prosecuted provided they register the death with authorities.

Internationally, great whites are targeted for their teeth, jaws and fins and even small jaws can fetch thousands of dollars, said Knowles. Rising demand for shark skins, fins, meat and other parts used for food, medicine, cosmetics and other industries has led to a worldwide boom in shark fishing.

"No one wants to see an animal hunted to extinction for the sake of a jaw or a few teeth or to be placed under pressure by accidental catch," Anderton said.

"Under these new regulations no fisher will be able to profit from taking a white pointer," he said, "and any fisher inadvertently catching one will have to return it to the sea, intact, and alive, if possible."

Great whites are also killed in anti-shark nets put up to protect swimmers, surfers and divers. Dunedin City Council has put up shark nets every summer off Brighton, St. Clair and St. Kilda beaches since 1969, when there was a series of fatal attacks by great whites around the Otago Peninsula from 1964 to 1969. No great whites have been caught in the nets for the last decade.

The ministers said the new regulations would permit the continued use of shark nets to protect swimmers around beaches in Dunedin.

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Great white sharks are sought after for their fins, teeth and jaws. (Photo by Rachel Powell courtesy CITES)
New Zealand is a signatory to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals and has an obligation to prohibit the taking of great white sharks.

Great white sharks are also protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, under Appendix II, which allows trade only with a permit.

Historically, the great white was considered by the scientific community to be the most aggressive and dangerous of all shark species. This assumption was reinforced by Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film “Jaws,” based on Peter Benchley’s best-selling book.

Since then, says the Bronx zoo based Wildlife Conservation Society, which works to conserve the species, field studies show that the great white shark is rarely a man-eater. Most attacks occur when great whites confuse humans with their preferred prey - sea lions, seals and other marine mammals.

Australia, South Africa and California have had full protection of great whites in their coastal waters and exclusive economic zones since the 1990s.