The police officer who shot at the great white pointer shark which killed swimmer Adam Strange off Muriwai Beach is in hiding for fear he will be hounded by animal rights activists.
Angry comments about the officer's actions have already peppered social media sites and talkback radio. He's been called "gung ho" and "over-eager" by some, said Rodney police area commander, Senior Sergeant Scott Webb.
"He didn't want to be the face of the incident. It's too raw, too traumatising," Webb told the Sunday Star-Times.
The officer worried that if he was named as the one who shot at the shark, he would be a lightning rod for protests and harassment, Webb said.
Muriwai film director and father Strange was killed when swimming 200 metres from shore between Muriwai and Maori Bay on Wednesday afternoon.
As people scrambled to respond, the unnamed officer set out with lifeguards in an inflatable boat smaller than the 4m great white still mauling Strange's body. Other sharks were nearby.
Hovering above was the Westpac rescue helicopter, hoping the downwash of its blades would scare off the sharks.
Crewman Dave Walley said: "It was horrible. It was one of those things that you never want to see. I've never seen a shark persistently attack somebody. To see a shark go for a human being like that is horrific."
The police officer, armed with a M4 Bushmaster rifle, shot repeatedly at the shark hoping to scare it away.
Other sharks attracted by the blood were also shot at.
The lifeguards were thrashing the water and striking at the shark with oars in the bid to chase it off.
Webb said police always went to great lengths to retrieve bodies as they knew it helped families in their grieving process and they did not want to let down Strange's wife, Meg, and toddler, Indigo, 2.
"The shark was going for the person for 25 minutes while we were there, just insistently. It didn't seem to be frightened of anything. It wasn't frightened of being shot," Walley said.
The great white reared up at the officer and he put two rounds in its head, he said. The officer believed he killed the shark.
Muriwai Surf Lifesaving chairman Tim Jago, who identified Strange, said the injuries were "horrific".
The split-second decision to kill was ultimately that of the officer, Webb said. But he supported that decision. He would have liked the officer to talk publicly about his actions, but is not going to push him.
SPCA Auckland executive director Bob Kerridge said the outrage at the shooting was understandable. "I can understand the public concern about this and I share it.
"At least the shark was shot by a marksman a number of times, I presume it died fairly quickly. I hope it did."
But most people understood the risks of swimming at sea, and killing a shark for its actions was unnecessary.
A stuff.co.nz reader Jacob said "killing sharks because they killed a person is like draining the ocean because someone drowned.
"I feel like it's an old fashioned desire to ‘tame' nature, that if a wild animal doesn't behave in a civilised way it must be killed."
Others were more forgiving of the officer's actions.
"I can understand the shooting at the single shark doing the damage if it was done at the time of the rescue or recovery," said online commenter Berry.
"I'm sure the family appreciated having the body for the funeral. Hunting it or any other shark after the fact is terrible."
- Sunday Star Times