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article image'Jaws' for real — New Zealand town being invaded by sharks

By Karen Graham     Jan 30, 2016 in World
Oban - Folks in Oban, New Zealand are used to living in the vicinity of sharks, but now they are getting freaked out over the number of sharks that have turned aggressive and started attacking their boats. Locals blame the shark cage diving operators.
Rakiura or Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third largest island. Its population isn't very large, only 380 people and most of them work in the seafood industry or provide tourist services. The island is near the bottom of South Island, across the Foveaux Strait, which takes an hour to cross by ferry and 20 minutes by light plane.
The island's residents share the ocean with a fairly large population of great white sharks, numbering anywhere from 59 to 120 animals. The sharks migrate to the island in late summer and early winter to hunt baby seals, and island residents have always coexisted peacefully with them.
The great white's became a protected species in New Zealand waters in 2007. It was at this same time that businesses started offering shark cage diving experiences to tourists. According to stuff.co.nz, companies under permit from the Department of Conservation lure the animals to within a few miles of shore using buckets of chum or baited hooks. Visitors are then lowered down into the water in shark cages to see the creatures first-hand.
Back in 2007, locals were excited to see the shark cage diving operations start up, many having visions of extra dollars being made from the tourist trade, But it wasn't long before locals noticed a change in the sharks behavior. The Guardian spoke with Phillip Smith, 72, a Rakiura Maori elder, who says the sharks have “always been here.”
Smith says that growing up, sharks were rarely seen, and they kept to the north-west corner of the island. "It is quite amazing the level of interaction between humans and sharks now. We see them all the time and not just one, sometimes three or four surrounding our boats,” he says.
Ken McAnergney has a holiday home on Stewart Island. He told the MPs the waters around the island are no longer safe. Speaking with Radio New Zealand, he said, "my grandchildren came to the island with me last Easter. They asked to go in the water and I said no... I'm sorry to be so emotional, but it's frightening."
Locals blame the changed behavior on the dive operators. They are basically feeding the sharks, and the sharks have begun to associate boats with food, and local fishermen have actually either had their boats bumped, or had one and sometimes two or three sharks to follow their boats for hours, attacking buoys and floats.
“It’s like Jaws anonymous out there,” says one local man, Alistair Faulkner, who crews on a friend's fishing boat on the weekends.
“They get together and go: which boat shall we target today? Where’s the next feed coming from? They are smart, they know boats mean food now.”
The dive boat operators don't seem to be bothered with the commotion the locals are making, though. Many say this has been going on for years. Shark Dive NZ director Peter Scott says, "This is something that goes on and on and on. Every year it's the same. We'll probably still be talking about this in a hundred years from now."
Will something be done? It's hard to tell right now. New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell is afraid for the residents on the island. "Dare I say it, I'd hate for Stewart Island to become Amity Island and baiting sharks... to encourage them to be around humans is only asking for trouble," he said.
More about shark cage diving, Oban, New Zealand, Oban New Zealand, sharks aggressive, sharks attacking boats
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