Don't be scared of Waihi's 'phantom sharks'

TONY WALL
Last updated 08:14 29/12/2013

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This is not a scary shark story. At Waihi Beach on Saturday toddlers splashed in the shallows, dads boogie boarded with their kids and stand-up paddle boarders enjoyed glassy seas. There were no circling fins, no lifesavers with megaphones shouting "shark!" and certainly no signs of panic in the water.

There have been three unconfirmed sightings of a 1.5-2m shark during the week but the overwhelming sentiment of swimmers and sunbathers was: "Shark? What shark?"

Waihi Beach surf patrol captain Morgan Sloog said that after the reported shark sightings - last Sunday, Christmas Eve and Friday afternoon - lifesavers closed the beach on a couple of occasions and did sweeps of the shore line in IRBs, but were unable to find the offending fish.

"Everyone's been calling them phantom sharks," Sloog said. "People don't need to be too scared - the sharks are always going to be there. It's just that at this time of year there are more people around so they get spotted."

The best way to keep safe was to swim between the flags. "That way it's a lot easier for us to control people. We can assess things a lot easier and get them out of the water if need be.

"We haven't had anyone freaking out, but everyone sort of has it in the back of their mind."

Holidaymaker Terri Bjerring said her family was staying in a two-level house right on the beach. "Shark sightings are always a concern, but you generally swim between the flags. People were completely oblivious [Friday]. "My nine-year-old was out there for ages boogie-boarding yesterday and didn't seem too bothered."

Seven-year-old Oscar Kingsford of Auckland, who got a surfboard for Christmas, admitted sharks preyed on his mind. "I think about them sometimes when I go surfing, that they're going to come up and eat me."

Mt Maunganui resident Glenn Keaney said the small size of the sighted shark had set him at ease. "We heard it was only a metre. That makes it a little more easy to swallow. You can't keep out of the sea, can you. Anyway, the crabs are worse."

At the Waihi Beach Hotel, bar worker Kim Jones said no-one was terribly worried about the shark sightings.

"I hate sharks but I went in the water yesterday. I don't think it's keeping anyone away. I read it was only a smaller shark, and I know the lifeguards will close the beach if it's getting too close to the swimmers."

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- Waikato

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