Alistair Child


YOB: 1946
Experience: Spearfisherman, Scuba Diver, Commercial Fisherman, Underwater Observatory Manager
Regions: Otago, Catlins, Fiordland
Interview Location: Milford Sound, NZ
Interview Date: 08 February 2016
Post Date: 01 December 2017; Copyright © 2017 Alistair Child and Steve Crawford


CRAWFORD: What was the first instance that you recall seeing a White Pointer? 

CHILD: [laughs] Looking back, it was funny. But it wasn’t quite so funny at the time. We were in our Zodiac, heading south to dive at the Puddingstone Rock area, close to the lighthouse. 

CRAWFORD: Relative to Cape Saunders, where were you? 

CHILD: Just a wee bit south of it. Right on Cape Saunders there’s a bay there, that was very fruitful for Pāua. And then south down to Lawyer's Head or through that area there. Anyways, this particular day, early in the morning, I saw these guys out fishing. And I looked and saw sharks. So, I thought "Oh, sharks. Let's go have a look.’ So, we did. And as we got closer, we realized it wasn’t a lot of sharks, it was two sharks. Because the way they swim, they were kind of a little bit erratic in their movements. We thought it was several sharks, but it was two very, very, big sharks. We thought we would see if we could deal with one of these. 

CRAWFORD: You were in an inflatable boat, Alistair!

CHILD: Well, I know. [laughs]. That’s the absurdity of it all. As we came up on this shark, I was hanging over the front of the boat, and my mate was on the motor, and we were from here to the wall away - the distance between us. 

CRAWFORD: Three metres, maybe. 

CHILD: Yeah. The tail of one turned out to be ... I didn’t realize it was a tail, I thought it was a dorsal fin. Because it was so big. And I kind of ran over it, more or less. 

CRAWFORD: [laughs]

CHILD: And I saw how big this thing was and I said "We’re going!" And away we went, away from the whole area, we headed south. 

CRAWFORD: [Discussion about project classification levels for human encounters with White Pointers: Level 1-Observation, Level 2-Swim-By, Level 3-Interest, Level 4-Intense]. What level of interaction do you reckon that was?

CHILD: I think it was Level 1.

CRAWFORD: You just happened to motor right over them, but they didn’t interact with you at all?

CHILD: Well, there was very little time between when we realized what it was, and how big it was, and we planted foot and were gone. Before we did this, we had good views of the sharks, but again, I couldn’t believe it was just two sharks. I thought it was several sharks, because I’d never seen a White Pointer up close. 

CRAWFORD: How big was your inflatable, roughly? 

CHILD: It was a Mark III Zodiac. 

CRAWFORD: What was that, maybe 4 metres long? 

CHILD: Probably 3-4 metres. 

CRAWFORD: Relative to the Zodiac, how big were the sharks? 

CHILD: Well, the dorsal fin was parallel with me and I’m hanging over the front, and I look back at my guy that’s driving the boat, and he was wide-eyed looking at the tail. 

CRAWFORD: So, that’s going to be close to 3 metres right there. 

CHILD: Plus the rest of the head. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. That’s a big fish. And there was another fish with it. And that fish was smaller? 

CHILD: No. The same. When we first saw them, they were just sort of tottering around, nowhere in particular. 

CRAWFORD: Milling about?

CHILD: Yeah, yeah.

CRAWFORD: They were at the surface, and they were kind of milling about, and you had come on them, then you saw what you’re really dealing with, and you high-tail it. The animals didn’t follow you? Did they submerge or do anything when you came there? Or where they still at the surface when you were leaving? 

CHILD: When high-tailed out of it, we didn’t really look back. We were gone! [laughs]

CRAWFORD: [laughs] Fair enough. What do you think two animals were doing there together? What did you think maybe was happening there? 

CHILD: I don’t know that I analyzed it too deeply. We were a bit nervous of it all, of course.

CRAWFORD: Well, this was just after the attacks, right? 

CHILD: Yes, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Within a year or two? 

CHILD: Probably more like two or three years. In all my time at sea, I’ve only ever seen maybe three White Pointers, certainly two. 

CRAWFORD: Certainly the two at that incident at Cape Saunders. But it’s a rarity. And location is also important in this case. Do you remember the time of year? 

CHILD: It was cold, so it would have been winter. 

CRAWFORD: Really? You’re talking June-July or something like that? 

CHILD: Yeah. Quite conceivably. I remember it was quite cold. We were shivering on the boat. 

CRAWFORD: Your second White Pointer incident - you said it was on this side of South Island? 

CHILD: Yeah. That was north of Milford. 

CRAWFORD: Roughly when was it? Shortly after you got here? 

CHILD: No. I had been here a couple years or more. 

CRAWFORD: In the 1980s maybe? 

CHILD: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: And you were Craypotting north of here? Roughly how far? 

CHILD: Up to this side of Big Bay

CRAWFORD: Oh. So, past Yates Point, past Martins Bay, but not quite as far as Big Bay? 

CHILD: Right.

CRAWFORD: What time of year was it? 

CHILD: Summer fishing. We were out in a little boat.

CRAWFORD: What do you remember about the incident? 

CHILD: Not much, really. I vaguely remember seeing this shark. We’d assumed it was a White Pointer - just based on its size, because we were looking down on it. And I just paddled away. We thought "Gosh! Hey, did you see that?" [laughs]

CRAWFORD: It was below the surface, dorsal fin, caudal fin?

CHILD: Below the surface, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: You were quite close then, if you were looking down and saw it. And it wasn’t just the fins, it was the whole body of the fish. And relatively speaking, you said it was a big fish. You’ve seen them before. Was it maybe about the same size as the ones at Otago Peninsula? 

CHILD: I think the peninsula ones were much bigger. Not that I’ve seen many, but those were the biggest. 

CRAWFORD: And the Big Bay incident, in terms of Levels 1-4? 

CHILD: They all would be Level 1. 

CRAWFORD: That animal didn’t respond to you at all? 

CHILD: It probably looked at us.

CRAWFORD: But it didn’t do anything to indicate that it was interacting with you. No circling or anything like that?

CHILD: No. It just slowly vanished out of sight. 

CRAWFORD: Just very casual?

CHILD: Yeah. The others off Cape Saunders, they were still clearly there when we left. 

CRAWFORD: I thought you said you didn’t look back. 

CHILD: Well we kind of did. We could still see them at a distance. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. So still visible at the surface?

CHILD: Oh, yeah.

Copyright © 2017 Alistair Child and Steve Crawford