By Francesca Dowling
When a large shark was found the morning of 23 June washed up on one of the popular swimming spots of Buffalo Beach, it was to say the least, rather paranoia-inducing for many beach-goers. Even in death, the approximately eight foot-long mature, female, bronze whaler shark was a petrifying sight to behold.
With overheard comments such as “time for a pool” filling the air as bystanders retreated, one boy expectantly rushed forward to get a closer look. Known as Whitianga’s keenest shark enthusiast, Sebastian Ross, was already on site when Thames Coromandel District Council staff arrived on the scene. Offering to help TCDC staff with retrieving the shark from the water, which was then lifted onto a hiab truck and buried out of town, Sebastian was of assistance throughout the process of disposing of the deceased shark. As a reward for his efforts, Sebastian was gifted with the opportunity to be able to take the jaw of the shark home, even cutting it from the carcass himself. “After consulting with local iwi and the Department of Conservation (DOC), Council staff decided to remove the shark,” reports TCDC Communications Team Leader, Michael Dobie. “Sebastian has been studying sharks since he was a young boy and knows a great deal about them. As our iwi partners and Department of Conservation had no interest in retaining the shark, and to acknowledge his assistance, Sebastian was allowed to keep the shark jaw.”
Despite the cause of death being unknown, Sebastian holds his own speculations. “Large sharks are such strong predators and so well suited to their environment, that the beaching of one is usually the cause of an illness. The jaw proved to be very interesting once dried out as there was this horrible abscess-like rot in part of the shark’s jaw. I suspect that the cause of death could have quite possibly been from meningitis caused by a bacterial infection which swelled its brain, disorientating the shark causing it to beach itself. This is uncommon, but not unheard of,” says Sebastian. “It is plausible that the infection could have been brought on by a hook due to abscesses being located in the corner of the lower jaw. Although sharks do generally have very efficient immune systems, it is not unseen for a shark to suffer from a bacterial infection due to hooks.”
Sebastian stresses the importance of people not jumping to conclusions in the wake of this recent shark sighting. “Bronze whalers often swim in shallow coastal waters and have always been a common sight at our beaches, so there’s no need for extra concern as they have always been here and haven’t caused any harm so far.”
Although Sebastian admits being able to get his hands on such a big shark jaw is “pretty epic,” he heavily emphasises the need to preserve the shark species and strongly advises against others going out of their way to get themselves a jaw by hunting sharks. “Sharks are essential to the ocean’s ecosystem as they hold the responsibility of maintaining its balance. Without sharks, the ocean would not thrive. I was very lucky to be able to gain this shark jaw, although if I could choose, I would prefer that shark to still be swimming around in the sea , a whole living creature.. Sharks are much better off in the ocean than on someone’s wall.”
Pictured: Local shark enthusiast, Sebastian Ross, with the jaw of the washed up shark.