Frequently Asked Questions
about the great white shark in New Zealand 

Are great white sharks protected?
Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), also known as white pointers, have been fully protected in New Zealand since 1 April 2007.

As one of the world's hotspots for great white sharks, this protection is an important step towards reducing threats to this globally vulnerable species, which is in decline throughout the world.

The Department of Conservation is currently working alongside New Zealand and international scientists to learn more about this little-known species in the hope that this information will further aid conservation efforts.

How big are they?
White sharks are between 1-1.5 m long and 21-32 kg at birth. Females grow to at least 6.4 metres, while the males are no lightweights at 5.5 metres maximum length. Several large females estimated to be between 6.7 and 7 metres long have been landed, and while it is difficult to weigh such large animals two reportedly tipped the scales at a massive two and a half tonnes!

What do they eat?
Great white sharks are apex predators - at the top of the food chain. Their diet includes a variety of bony fish, sharks, rays, penguins and marine mammals. In New Zealand a relatively large proportion of the diets of sharks over 2.5 metres long consists of New Zealand fur seals. White sharks also commonly scavenge whale carcasses.

How fast and how far do they swim?
Great white sharks can reach great speeds when in pursuit of prey and leap clear of the water. They also cover vast distances of ocean. A shark tagged in New Zealand travelled over 1000 kilometres in just one week.

How dangerous are they?
Common sense dictates that any large shark should be treated with respect. As a general rule any shark over 1.8 m long, regardless of species, should be treated as potentially dangerous. Fortunately, shark attack, particularly one involving serious injury is very rare in New Zealand.

What does DOC's work with great white sharks involve? 

The Department of Conservation is undertaking research into the movements and biology of this species in collaboration with NIWA, and Dr Ramón Bonfil of Shark-Tracker. 

This research includes the use of satellite tags to track individual white sharks' movements within New Zealand waters and between New Zealand and neighbouring countries; investigation of photo-identification for monitoring trends in abundance; collection of DNA samples from living and dead specimens to assist with analyses of global stock structure; investigation of age, growth, reproduction and diet.

DOC also administers protection under the Wildlife Act 1953, and is the New Zealand CITES authority.

What is photo-identification used for?
The Department of Conservation is building a photographic database of great white sharks seen in New Zealand and elsewhere in the southwest Pacific. As with marine mammals photographs of great whites showing detail of the dorsal fin and other parts of the body with distinctive markings (e.g. side of the head and gills, pelvic fins, base of the lower lobe of the tail), as well as permanent scars can be used to identify individual sharks. Repeat sightings of sharks can be used to track their movements and estimate population size.

Source of the above information: Department of Conservation website.