Great white shark dissection

By Tema Hemi
  • Northland
  • Auckland

The discovery of a juvenile white shark has provided scientists with the opportunity to learn more about the species.

Tom Trinski, head of natural sciences at the Auckland Museum, says by understanding the species the public becomes more aware of their habits and migration routes, dispelling the gruesome myths made popular in films such as Jaws

Usually a washed up carcass on the beach is of no use to anyone but in this case it will help scientists understand more about the feared hunter of the sea. 

Trnski says, "Well, white sharks being protected, we actually do not very often get white sharks so when one washes up dead on the beach its an opportunity for us to get more scientific data on them as not much is known about their biology".

Getting to understand the sharks can be a full-on task.

Trnski says, "We do a whole range of measurements so we know how they change when they grow.  We investigate what they eat and we also look at what parasites they might have.  Then we do other research like collect tissue samples so we can get genetic connectivity as well".

Like other endangered species, the white shark is protected by law.

Trnski says, "So we have a interest in these big palegic sharks that are particularly threatened and some of them whose populations are diminishing over time".

Dr Lance O'Sullivan discovered the white shark washed up on Great Exhibition Bay and immediately thought of the great learning opportunities for the youth of the far north to observe a necropsy. 

O'Sullivan says, "There's the opportunity for them to come and see the value of research and how it impacts on them so that they'll learn something from this research being done today that will shape their understanding of the environment".

One descendant of Ngāti Kuri is enjoying the experience.  This is what Zyonne Petera of ngātahi has to say, "I reckon it's pretty cool to get us kids to see and observe what the scientists actually do around their work".

Trnski says, "We have had this opportunity to do this a few times. We don't often do this as a public event in any way.  We have had major public events [which] were a little bit overwhelming. This is a really neat event because its with iwi".  

This particular juvenile white shark is 1.8 meters long, weighs 59.2kgs and is one year old. 

Nevertheless it still packs a big bite.