WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — About 150 friends and family of Adam Strange wrote messages to him in the sand and stepped into the water Thursday at a New Zealand beach to say goodbye after he was killed Wednesday by a large shark.
Strange, 46, was an award-winning television and short film director and the father of a 2-year-old girl. He was swimming near popular Muriwai Beach Wednesday when he was attacked by the shark that was possibly 14 feet (4 meters) long.
Police attempting to save him raced out in inflatable boats and fired gunshots at the enormous predator, which they say rolled away and disappeared. They couldn’t confirm if they’d killed it. Police were able to recover 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.
Friend Adam Stevens said the Thursday service was run by indigenous Maori who removed the “tapu” or spiritual restriction at the beach. 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,” 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, Strange was about 200 meters (650 feet) from the shore when he was attacked by a shark that police estimated was up to four meters (14 feet) long.
Stevens said his friend was planning to swim about 1 1/2 kilometers (one mile) Wednesday as he tested out some new goggles and trained for an annual endurance swim from Auckland to Rangitoto Island. The 4.5 kilometer (2.8 mile) swim takes place on Sunday.
“I surfed with him the day before,” 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 Strange struggle against the huge shark. Mose yelled at Strange to swim to the rocks, but it was too late.
“All of a sudden there was blood everywhere,” 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.
Stevens said he’s been comforting Strange’s wife Meg and their daughter since the accident. He said the girl is too young to understand what has happened but is aware of the emotions.
On his website, 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 …”
Stevens said his friend, whom he’s known about 15 years, was very creative and always positive.
“He lived in the moment brilliantly. It was completely infectious,” Stevens said. “He feasted on the details.”
Strange won a Crystal Bear award for best short film at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival.
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 is a hotspot for great white sharks, and other potentially lethal species also inhabit the waters.
Attacks are rare. Duffy estimated that only 12 to 14 people have 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 doesn’t necessarily equate to a greater risk of attack.
“Ninety-nine percent 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.