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Shark Attack: Great White Rips Whale From Rescuer in North Island

Māhia Peninsula. Photo: 123RF

Māhia's police officer is warning beachgoers about the possibility of shark attacks after a suspected great white ripped a whale from a rescuer who was trying to refloat it.

A mother and baby pygmy sperm whale washed up at Māhia beach on Sunday, but the shark attack ended the rescue in dramatic fashion.

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Constable Chad Prentice says while sharks are common, this kind of story is not.

"It's certainly not every day that something like this happens," he told RNZ"s Midday Report on Tuesday.

"And, you know, I guess a lot of people would perceive it as a bit of a tall yarn because it is certainly something that's quite unheard of, especially when you're trying to refloat a whale and save it and something like that happens."

The rescuer had the 3m-long mother pygmy sperm whale in water about belly-button deep, Prentice said, when the shark intervened.

"Whilst holding it and trying to kind of give it the breath of life, if you like, a shark has come in and hit the front end of the whale whilst he's been holding it. The shark when it's hit the front end, it's created quite a bit of damage and it's actually killed the whale instantly and created a pretty unpleasant scene.

"The guy trying to rescue the whale has obviously had a bit of a fright, and he's let the whale go and receded back towards the beach, and within 30 seconds, the shark has come back and hit the mid region of the whale."

The shark - approximately 5m long, according to a witness who spoke to the Hawke's Bay Today - took the entire carcass out to sea. No remains have been found, despite two days of searching, Prentice said.

"Three metres of whale, just gone."

In January, a pod of more than 40 whales stranded on the beach. Some of them were buried, and Prentice suspects this might have attracted the shark to the area, which is under a current shark warning from the Department of Conservation.

A rāhui on the area had not deterred swimmers, he said.

"I think this is a timely reminder that it's a very real risk and it probably shouldn't be taken for granted, because for a 3m whale to just disappear, probably gives you an insight to the size of the shark that would have to do that," Prentice said, despite Sunday's event sounding like a freak incident.

"I think as far as trying to release a whale goes and a shark hitting the whale, think that's pretty rare. But I think as far as whales and our waters in Māhia, I think that's pretty common. There's a lot of sharks in our waters and they're regularly sighted, but nothing like this has ever happened, that I'm aware of."

Hawke's Bay Today reported the calf, left without a mother, was euthanised and frozen for scientific study.

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