New Zealand: Woman dies of suspected shark attack near Auckland

New Zealand: Woman dies of suspected shark attack near Auckland

A woman has died after a suspected shark attack on New Zealand's North Island.

According to local media reports, he was evacuated by water on Wahi Beach, a two-hour drive southeast of Auckland, late on Thursday. Police officials said emergency services were called, but the woman died on the spot.

The victim was rushed out of the water still alive but died at the scene despite efforts to save her life. Police said it appeared she had been injured by a shark.

The attack happened at Waihi Beach on North Island not far from the country's biggest city Auckland.

Shark attacks are unusual in the country and this is thought to be the first fatality since 2013.

Local media cited witnesses as saying the woman had been swimming right in front of the lifeguard flags on Thursday.

When they heard screams, lifeguards went out by boat immediately and pulled her to shore.

New Zealand police on Friday night confirmed 19-year-old Kaelah Marlow, from Hamilton, had been killed at the beach.

The West Australian newspaper reported Marlow grew up in WA before moving to New Zealand five years ago with her parents and younger sister.

“You hear about shark attacks, but never in a million years you think it’ll be someone you know,” the 19-year-old’s aunt, Kylie French, told the newspaper.

“She was obviously out with her friends having a great time. She was a lovely girl, a fun girl, always bubbly, into anything.”

New Zealand police have released a statement confirming the woman was injured in the water and that she died shortly after.

Authorities were not able to immediately confirm the cause of death, but said that "indications are that she had been injured by a shark".

Police said the death was "extremely traumatic" for those who were at the scene. 

A witness who did not wish to be named earlier told the news website he saw Marlow swimming directly in front of the lifeguard flags, quite far out from the beach.

“I could hear some screams and then I saw the IRB [inflatable rescue boat] go out to get her,” he said. “Obviously her friends were remarkably distraught.”

The lifeguards got her in quickly and tried their hardest to keep her alive with CPR, he said.

A seven-day rahui, a traditional Maori prohibition restricting access to an area, has been placed on the beach.

Another witness, Eliott Hall, said paramedics performed CPR on the woman for more than 20 minutes as her friends gathered around.

Local people and holidaymakers later lit candles in memory of the victim. “It could have been any of us, so we just thought we’d have a drink for the person involved,” resident Mark Wilson told Stuff.

He said he had been swimming at the beach on Thursday afternoon when he was told to get out of the water. He didn’t realise what was happening until a rescue helicopter landed.

He said he frequently saw sharks in the area and that he believed the shark involved in the attack was likely a great white.

It is not clear what kind of shark attacked the woman, but an eyewitness reportedly claimed it was a great white, a species which is protected in the waters around New Zealand.

"Sharks are reasonably common near all Northern beaches of New Zealand, most are harmless and even species considered dangerous very rarely interact with swimmers," shark researcher Kina Scollay told the report.

The last fatal shark attack in New Zealand was in 2013 when the 46-year-old film-maker Adam Strange was killed off Muriwai Beach, also near Auckland.

More than 60 shark species are known to swim in New Zealand’s waters but attacks are rare. The last non-fatal shark attack was in 2018 at Baylys Beach, north-west of Auckland, according to the New Zealand police website.

The police have referred the case to the coroner.

"My thoughts and sympathies are with the victim's family and we need to remember that this is a real tragedy to real people. I worry that this gets lost sight of in the media scramble after such events."

He says that while attacks are rare, there are ways to be careful about interactions that could go wrong. Among the risk factors are for instance fish feeding events or dead animals in the water. 

"If a large shark approaches or is seen nearby people should stay calm, warn those nearby and calmly exit the water."

The last recorded shark attack was in 2018 when a man was injured - but survived - at Baylys Beach.

Over the last 170 years, there have only been 13 fatal shark attacks documented in New Zealand, according to the country's department of conservation.