Around 150 friends and family of an award-winning director wrote messages in the sand and stepped into the water in an emotional service and tribute at the New Zealand beach where he was killed by a huge shark.
Adam Strange, 46, who won a Crystal Bear award for best short film at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival, was swimming near popular Muriwai Beach yesterday when he was attacked by the shark, believed to be as long as 14ft while training for an endurance swim.
Police attempting to save Mr Strange raced out in inflatable boats and shot at the huge predator, which they say rolled away and disappeared. They could not confirm if they had killed it.
Police were able to recover Mr Strange’s body.
Muriwai and several nearby beaches remained closed for swimming after the fatal attack, one of only about a dozen in New Zealand in the past 180 years.
Mr Strange’s friend Adam Stevens said the service was run by indigenous Maori who removed the beach’s “tapu” or spiritual restriction. He said it was a “perfect tribute” to a man who spent much of his time swimming and surfing.
“He was a very robust, big, barrel-chested surfer,” Mr Stevens said. “He was basically completely obsessed with the ocean, with paddle boards and body surfing, everything. His garage was like a museum of surf craft.”
According to police inspector Shawn Rutene, Mr Strange was about 650ft from the shore when he was attacked by a shark that police estimated was up to 14ft long.
Mr Stevens said his friend was planning to swim about a mile as he tested new goggles and trained for an annual endurance swim from Auckland to Rangitoto Island. The 2.8-mile swim takes place on Sunday.
“I surfed with him the day before,” Mr Stevens said. “He wasn’t that pleased with his fitness level but was just getting into the right headspace and finding the motivation to get out there.”
Pio Mose, who was fishing at the beach Wednesday, told the New Zealand Herald newspaper he saw Mr Strange struggle against the huge shark. Mr Mose yelled at him to swim to the rocks, but it was too late.
“All of a sudden there was blood everywhere,” Mr Mose said. “I was shaking, scared, panicked.”
About 200 people had been enjoying the beach during the Southern Hemisphere summer at the time of the attack.
Mr Stevens said he had been comforting Mr Strange’s wife Meg and their two-year-old daughter since the accident. He said the girl was too young to understand what had happened but was aware of the emotions.
On his website, Mr Strange says: “When I get a spare 5 minutes, I like to make a fruit smoothy, surf some big waves out on the West Coast, point my skis down a mountain with Meg, haul my mountain bike up and down a few hills, drink some pinot while scratching away at a film script ... If I get a spare 5 minutes ...”
Police did not say what species of shark was involved in the attack. Clinton Duffy, a shark expert with the Department of Conservation, said New Zealand was a hotspot for great white sharks, and other potentially lethal species also inhabit the waters.
Attacks are rare. Mr Duffy estimated that only 12 to 14 people had been killed by sharks in New Zealand since record keeping began in the 1830s.
“There are much lower levels of shark attacks here than in Australia,” he said. “It’s possibly a function of how many people are in the water” in New Zealand’s cooler climate.
He said that during the Southern Hemisphere summer, sharks often come in closer to shore to feed and to give birth, although that did not necessarily equate to a greater risk of attack.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the time they ignore people,” he said. “Sometimes, people get bitten.”
Around the world, sharks attacked humans 80 times last year, and seven people were killed, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File.
The death toll was lower than it was in 2011 but higher than the average of 4.4 from 2001 to 2010.