The New Zealand Herald reported that Adam Strange, 46, was swimming about 650 feet offshore of Muriwai Beach near Auckland, when he was attacked and killed by a great white shark, possibly 14 feet long on Wednesday.
Witnesses told the Herald that they saw up to four other sharks sweep in on Strange as blood spread through the water.
Armed police responded in a helicopter and an inflatable surf lifesaving boat, firing into the ocean to drive the sharks off so lifeguards could recover his body. It is unknown if one of the sharks were killed.
Strange was an award-winning television and short film director. He won a Crystal Bear award for best short film (Aphrodite's Farm) at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival. Strange also had a background in painting, photography and graphic design.
His family issued a brief statement, saying they were ''grieving the loss of a glorious and great father, husband and friend."
Beaches north of Manukau Harbor were closed for the next two days, including Piha and Muriwai beaches, shortly after the fatal shark attack, one of only about a dozen recorded in New Zealand waters in the past 180 years.
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.
"There are much lower levels of shark attacks here than in Australia," Duffy said. "It's possibly a function of how many people are in the water" in New Zealand's cooler climate."
Around the world, sharks attacked humans 80 times last year including more that 50 in U.S. coastal waters, 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.