In his harrowing findings into the shark attack death of Kaelah Marlow at Waihī Beach, Coroner Michael Robb noted that shark attacks in New Zealand waters are “historically rare”.
The report into the January 2021 death, published on Wednesday, said Marlow, 19, died as a result of “massive blood loss” from a “massive shark bite” to her right thigh.
The shark was a great white with an estimated length of 2.8m, Robb said.
Shark expert Clinton Duffy, who works for the Department of Conservation, said encounters with sharks around most of New Zealand were uncommon, and the vast majority did not involve aggression or result in aggressive attacks or injury to humans.
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“Most sharks commonly encountered around the coast of New Zealand present no risk to humans, however any shark 1.8 m or larger should be considered as potentially dangerous,” Duffy said.
There doesn’t appear to be any official count of shark attacks in this country, but Duffy said he was aware of 16 unprovoked attacks on swimmers and surfers in New Zealand waters from 2012-2021 – two of them fatal.
In data provided to a coroner, Duffy said he had recorded 61 unprovoked shark attacks on swimmers and surfers from 1852 through to early December 2020. Ten of those attacks were fatal.
“The shark attack rate is so low that it’s difficult to detect any trends,” he said.
Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand reported 12 fatal shark attacks to 2014. Among those attacks were three in the waters off Dunedin in the 1960s.
In contrast to the small number of deaths caused by sharks, Ministry of Health data shows 34,489 people died in 2019.
That included a total of 9773 cancer deaths, including 699 deaths from breast cancer, 1832 from trachea, bronchus and lung cancer, 328 from melanoma of the skin, and 716 from prostate cancer.
There were 10,381 deaths from diseases of the circulatory system in 2019, and 990 deaths attributed to diabetes mellitus.
Ministry of Transport data shows 378 road deaths in 2018, while Police said 939 people died as a result of murder and manslaughter offences between 2007 and 2019.
The worst year in that period was 2019, when there were 130 homicides. The least deadly was 2017, when there were 46 homicides.
Data from ACC shows it received 3301 claims in the six years from 2016-2021 for deaths where the scene of an accident was described as “home”. Annual totals in that period ranged from 444 in 2016 to 598 in 2020.
Water Safety New Zealand recorded 90 drownings in 2021, 74 in 2020, 82 in 2019, 66 in 2018 and 91 in 2017.
WorkSafe recorded between 59 and 79 annual workplace fatalities from 2013-2021, excluding 2019. In 2019, 110 workplace fatalities were recorded, including work-related deaths from the December 2019 Whakaari volcanic eruption.
In the 12 months to August 2022, 31 work-related deaths were classed as vehicle incidents, 8 were falls from height, seven were a result of being hit by falling objects, four were people trapped in moving machinery or equipment, and three were classed as transport incidents.
Transport, postal and warehousing industries accounted for 18 of the deaths, at a 12-month annual rate of 16.42 per 100,000 workers.
Construction accounted for 11 deaths at a rate of 4.41; agriculture nine deaths at a rate of 7.87; agriculture, forestry and fishing support services five deaths at a rate of 11.99; and health care and social assistance five deaths at a rate of 2.04.
On Monday the Ministry of Health reported a total of 2154 deaths attributed to Covid. Of those, Covid was considered the underlying cause in 1338 deaths, and a contributory factor in 753. The first Covid death was late-March 2020.