Are There Sharks at Kaikoura?

Kaikoura is famous for dolphins and whales, but what about sharks? Are sharks ever seen near the Kaikoura coast?

As inhabitants of the ocean, just like millions of other creatures, sharks can be expected to be anywhere – and their right to exist respected.

The presence of sharks is possible at just about any ocean beach around New Zealand.

So, beach swimming always comes with the knowledge that you’re in the sharks domain.

Patrolled beaches have swimming flags you should stay between, and some have alarm systems to warn of sharks – but most beaches are more remote and not monitored by lifeguards.

Great White Shark Sightings in New Zealand

The South Island of NZ, including Kaikoura has virtually no known Great White Shark sightings besides in the very south – in the waters north east of Stewart Island.

According to iNaturalist, Kaikoura and the rest of the south island (as well as most of the southern end of the North Island, have no known presence of Great White Sharks near land.

Naturally, it takes someone to both spot and report great whites to be aware of their presence. Many chance sightings come from people out on boats fishing some distance from the coast.

Other shark species which are known as being potentially dangerous in Australian waters might have you wondering whether they also exist around New Zealand.

Bull Sharks are notorious in Australia, but they are not a species which is known around NZ.

The third shark that humans around Australia must be wary of is the Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), not to be confused with the critically endangered Sand Tiger Shark (Grey Nurse Shark). Tiger Sharks are not currently known around NZ either.

So in summary: when it comes to sharks, waters close to most of New Zealand’s coastline are significantly safer than those in Australia where swimmers must be alert to the presence of sharks at all times.

Irrational fear of sharks leads to their persecution and misunderstanding; but when it comes to Kaikoura particularly, there is nothing to fear from sharks.

In New Zealand in general, shark attacks are extremely rare for anyone swimming in coastal waters.

Understandably, visitors embarking on an open ocean dolphin swim can have legitimate concerns about sharks.

New Zealand on the whole is not prone to shark attack events, and Kaikoura even less so (see our statistic below, which lists only one known shark-human incident since the 1800s and where the person was not touched).

The well established dolphin encounter industry in Kaikoura simply wouldn’t exist if sharks were a concern.

While the operators will tell you that sharks have to be expected to be around out in the ocean but there have been zero incidents or concerns with sharks during dolphin swims. So the odds are on your side.

Likewise, operators who run seal swimming activities at Kaikoura are likely to tell you they’ve never even seen a shark around, let alone had a run in with one.

Although there have been anecdotal and alleged sightings over the years, mostly by fishermen, few have ever been confirmed. In 2014 “Dive Kaikoura co-owner Nigel Elson has been on more than 2000 dives and said he had never seen a shark, let alone a great white.”

Sharks simply aren’t common close to the Kaikoura coast.
Operators that tried to run shark encounter tours at Kaikoura eventually had to close down due to lack of sharks.

Dolphins and whales are the drawcards here!

Out at the Kaikoura Canyon where water depths plungs, whale watch encounters may occasionally spot a shark from a boat; mostly mako sharks which are hunted by sperm whales, and plunket sharks which live so deep that they have huge eyes allowing them to see in the dark waters. Great White Sharks also live in the Kaikoura canyon, which begins over 500 metres off the coast of Kaikoura.

In June 2015, a porbeagle shark was found washed up at Kaikoura’s main beach.

Sadly, experts predicted that the shark was one of the countless annual victims of the commercial fishing industry where they are often caught as by-catch and discarded overboard. These sharks live in deep ocean waters and are rarely encountered by humans.

The Shark Attack Data database lists all known incidents involving sharks and humans dating back to the late 1800s. In New Zealand, Kaikoura is mentioned merely one time on the list – an incident on December 9 2007 where a female surfer had her surfboard bitten by a shark.

The species of shark was unknown and the surfer was not injured. This is the only ever recorded shark-human interaction near Kaikoura