Locals mourn victim of Waihī Beach shark attack

A post mortem is scheduled to be carried out on Friday after a woman died at Waihī Beach on Thursday in what is believed to be a shark attack.

Police said they were not able to confirm the cause of death yet, however they noted "indications are that she had been injured by a shark".

The post mortem was hoped to provide a clearer understanding of what happened, police said, adding that her cause of death would ultimately be determined by the coroner.

"We appreciate her death was extremely traumatic for those who were at Waihī Beach yesterday and we are offering victim support services to anyone who requires it," a spokesperson said on Friday.

Police said they were not in a position to release the name of the woman but would do so in consultation with her family when appropriate.

Emergency services were called to the scene at the popular Bay of Plenty holiday location just after 5pm after reports of the attack.

Despite efforts by emergency services the victim died at the scene.

Lifeguards at the beach were first to respond to the incident, providing help to the woman before other emergency services arrived, Surf Life Saving New Zealand eastern region lifesaving manager Chaz Gibbons-Campbell told Newshub.

He said "the mood is a bit sombre" at the beach.

"Our team that was on yesterday has been quite heavily affected by this," he said.

"We've had to obviously take them off work today and bring in a team of replacements, and we're in the process now of supporting those lifeguards and getting them some counselling and that sort of support."

A coastguard boat was patrolling the area on Friday.
A coastguard boat was patrolling the area on Friday. Photo credit: Newshub.

The attack happened at the Bowentown end of the beach. Gibbons-Campbell said while the beach would remain open on Friday, there would only be a flagged swimming area at the northern end of the beach. However, there would be a lifeguard presence at the Bowenstown end to "field any questions and direct the public to where the safest place to swim is".

Western Bay of Plenty Katikati-Waihi Beach ward councillor Anne Henry said the local community was deeply saddened by the woman's death.

"It's just an absolute tragedy," she told NZME.

"Obviously, we're all very concerned that a life has been taken."

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark also expressed her condolences.

"Tragedy has struck our community at Waihī Beach where a woman died in a shark attack late this afternoon," Clark wrote on Twitter on Thursday evening. 

"Deepest condolences to family & friends; this is devastating news. Solidarity with local emergency services in attendance."

On Thursday night local iwi placed a rāhui around the area where the attack took place.

Gibbons-Campbell said details about the shark were "still a bit sketchy".

"We're not too sure what type of shark it was, we haven't seen it since."

He said shark sightings in the area were "actually very common", with warm waters recently bringing an increase in sightings. However, he stressed that it was extremely uncommon for an attack to take place.

"These attacks are very rare and few and far between."