The appearance of a large shark just metres from a busy beach in Paihia may have surprised beachgoers, but experts say there's nothing unusual about spotting a shark in Northland's shallows.
The sight of a dorsal fin slicing through the water on Tuesday, opposite the Marsden Rd playground, had beachgoers shouting ''shark!'' and children scrambling from the water.
It was photographed from a hotel balcony by Aucklander Delphine Baird, who said the shark was in shallow water and less than three metres out.
Department of Conservation shark expert Clinton Duffy, known for his research on great whites, said it was most likely a bronze whaler, a species which could grow to 3.3m long. Beachgoers had little to fear as bronze whalers were fish eaters that had never made a confirmed attack on a swimmer in New Zealand.
They were often seen in mangroves and estuaries at this time of year, possibly to hunt for flatfish and rays or because the females were about to have pups.
''Lifeguards have seen bronze whalers mooching along the beach, meandering through the swimmers like a slalom,'' Mr Duffy said.
The only people who sometimes had trouble with bronze whalers were spear fishers. The sharks could see the diver as competing for food, and sensing blood in the water and a struggling fish could make them aggressive.
A spear fisher was killed at Te Kaha, near East Cape, in the 1970s.
Bronze whalers had a bad reputation in Australia but that was because they were confused with larger, more aggressive bull sharks, Mr Duffy said.
DoC Bay of Islands biodiversity programme manager Adrian Walker said he was not aware of many, or indeed any, previous reports of a large shark so close to shore in Paihia.
However, bronze whalers had been seen elsewhere in the Bay of Islands for many years, including at nearby Opua, and swam up the estuaries at certain times of year.