Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


Shark cage diving is where tourists view sharks underwater at close range from the safety of a submerged cage attached to a boat.

Date:  16 December 2019

Legal arguments over shark cage diving ended in October 2019 with a ruling by the Supreme Court. The case involved a shark cage diving tourism business that took place off the Titi Islands near Stewart Island, where great white sharks congregate. The tourism company attracted sharks to their cage using burley and bait. The commercial paua divers, who work in the area, feared cage diving would attract more sharks and make them more aggressive placing the divers at risk.

DOC was involved because great white sharks are absolutely protected by the Wildlife Act 1953 and because the Director-General granted an authorisation to the tourism company to allow it to interact with the protected sharks.

Divers view a great white shark at close range from a submerged cage off Stewart Island.
Divers view a great white shark at close range from a submerged cage off Stewart Island
Image: Mark Enarson © 

The Supreme Court clarified that attracting sharks with bait or burley does not amount to illegal "hunting" or "pursuing" under the Wildlife Act. However, this might amount to a Wildlife Act crime if the shark is disturbed to the extent it suffers physical or mental agitation to a level where there is real risk of significant harm. It may also be a crime if the person doing the luring intentionally troubles, distresses or injures the shark in the process.

Read the Supreme Court ruling.

Next steps

DOC's role, under the Wildlife Act, is controlling, managing, and monitoring impacts on great white sharks. Shark cage diving has returned to being an activity not regulated under the Wildlife Act.

However, DOC may investigate reports of activity that could give rise to significant harm to protected sharks. 


Report concerns about shark cage diving to 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

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