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: Thank you, Alistair. Let's begin with where were you born, and when, please.

CHILD: Born in Dunedin, 1946. 

CRAWFORD: What is your first recollection of spending a significant amount of time around New Zealand coastal waters? How old were you? 

CHILD: I would have been 18. 

CRAWFORD: Prior to that, you hadn’t spent a great deal of time around the beaches or anything like that? 

CHILD: I knew they were there. I knew I was interested in them. But I didn’t really have a means - other than paddling out up to my knees in water. And it wasn’t till about 18 that I got my first chance to actually go and dive. 

CRAWFORD: I’m still interested in your very early days. Did you spend time as a young lad with parental supervision on the beaches? 

CHILD: Yes, yes. But probably as much as most kids that I knew did. 

CRAWFORD: What regions of the coastal waters? Was it mainly around Dunedin? 


CRAWFORD: in particular, what beaches or coastlines on the Otago Peninsula were you familiar with as a kid? 

CHILD: I was always really interested in the kid's rock pool. Rock pools were everywhere. And I really loved getting down in the rock pool, lifting rocks, and seeing what’s underneath them. 

CRAWFORD: Were you on the south coast of the Otago Harbour, the north side?

CHILD: I was all the above. But probably when I got a bit more serious about my fishing, even though I wasn’t a fisherman at that point, most of that was done around the Otago Peninsula area. 

CRAWFORD: So, out towards ...

CHILD: Aramoana, Taiaroa Heads. Those sorts of places. 

CRAWFORD: Did your family have a crib, or did you spend holiday time around the coast anywhere? 

CHILD: No. Holiday time with friends, and that sort of thing. 

CRAWFORD: As a youngster, what were your major activities? Did you swim along the beaches? 

CHILD: Yes. And that was in the harbour. Swam in the harbour around the kelp beds.

CRAWFORD: The inner harbour, or outer harbour? 

CHILD: The inner harbour.

CRAWFORD: So, from Sawyers Bay in. Or closer to town?

CHILD: Yes. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever do any boating of any kind? Did you sail or row? 

CHILD: No, no. We didn’t have boats. 

CRAWFORD: Did you do any snorkeling, or freediving? 

CHILD: I was a Pāua diver

CRAWFORD: Later on? 

CHILD: Yes, later on. Prior to that, I was a gatherer. With my friends, we’d go out and get a share of Pāua and whatever else we could get our hands on. 

CRAWFORD: You didn’t have access to a boat, so you couldn’t really go out handlining or anything like that. At what age did you start to get some independence, and the ability to move around on your own a little bit more? Was there an age where you got the keys to the car, anything like that? 

CHILD: I became more and more interested in the animals themselves, rather than the catching of the animals, and eating them. Not that I’m against it at all, I love fish. But I became more focussed. I was always feeling interested in getting to the bottom and the nitty gritty. "How does this tick? What was the fish that lives there, whatever that might be?" That sort of came about more when I was about 25 or so. Of course, because I was more able to afford diving gear and such. 

CRAWFORD: Let's talk about the transition in your late teens. Did you or your mates have the ability to access a car, and perhaps travel around a bit more? Did the region of your coastal experience expand in your teens? 

CHILD: Yes. Well, by that stage we were all working, and we had a few dollars in our pockets. So, we were able to go and buy stuff we needed. 

CRAWFORD: When did you leave high school? Approximately what age? 

CHILD: I only went to Grade 2 in high school. I’m dyslexic, and I was a hopeless student. 

CRAWFORD: When you left school, did you go to a job? 

CHILD: Yes. 

CRAWFORD: What was your job when you left school? 

CHILD: One of my first jobs was soil testing for roadworks. 

CRAWFORD: While you were employed doing that type of thing, did you have leisure time that you spent on or around the water? 

CHILD: Oh, yes. 

CRAWFORD: And where would you have spent that leisure time? 

CHILD: Anywhere where I could get under the water. We’d dive in a puddle, if we could,

CRAWFORD: Around the Otago Peninsula region? 

CHILD: Yes. And we'd up to little bit further north, and down as far as Tautuku.

CRAWFORD: Up north to Blueskin Bay, maybe Warrington? A little further north? 

CHILD: Yeah, all those places. 

CRAWFORD: And then south past ... did you get down to Brighton

CHILD: Oh, yes. Right down to some areas of the Catlins

CRAWFORD: Ok. So, pretty much the eastern coast of the South Island. When you were out for your leisure time, what kind of water activities were you engaged in? 

CHILD: I wasn’t a very good swimmer, never been a good swimmer - even though I dive all these years.

CRAWFORD: [laughs]

CHILD: I’m still not. I’m one of these people that swim with their head out the water. Absolutely useless. But I’m very comfortable in the water, so that’s probably why I haven’t drowned. 

CRAWFORD: As an adult, you had a job and some disposable income. Did you or your mates acquire a boat or anything?

CHILD: I owned my own boat as a fisherman.

CRAWFORD: As a commercial fisherman? 


CRAWFORD: That’s an important change. But just prior to becoming a commercial fisherman, you were still working in day jobs on land. In your spare time, what types of coastal activities would you have done for leisure? 

CHILD: Most of my leisure time was based around the sea, in one way or another. The odd friend had a father that had a boat, but they were pretty thin on the ground in those days. 

CRAWFORD: So, for you it was mostly shore-based?

CHILD: Yes. But we would go walk for miles to get to a particular piece of coast that we wanted to dive on. 

CRAWFORD: When was the first time that you remember scuba diving? 

CHILD: I got taken down by a friend and his father and his fathers’ friend to the Mole at Aramoana. These guys got dressed to get in the water, and they had these suits on, and their spearguns. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I was just absolutely spellbound by this. And with no shadow of a doubt, I knew that this is what I’m going to do when I get a bit older, because I was quite young at this stage.

CRAWFORD: Roughly how old? 

CHILD: I was probably only about 14, 15.

CRAWFORD: Ok. Were they free diving or scuba diving? 

CHILD: Yes, Free diving. And in those days, you could choose your Crayfish at the bottom of the water at Aramoana - it was so clear. Now it's ... well, it is what it is. So, my first set of diving gear was a pair of longjohns and a speargun. And I kind of saw myself one day emerging from the water on the side of the harbour, and these people had gathered to watch me because diving was a little bit unusual in those days still. I came out of the water and my long johns were down around my knees. And I saw that I really, really did need to get a dive suit. They were imported though. 

CRAWFORD: This was early 60s, mid 60s? 

CHILD: Yeah, late 60s. When I was 19 or 20. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. And this was free diving, snorkeling first. When did you go on your first scuba dive? What age? 

CHILD: My friends got me a present, and that was a speargun for my 21st birthday.

CRAWFORD: And you went scuba diving for the first time shortly after that? 

CHILD: Yes. Quite quickly after that. 

CRAWFORD: You had been diving at Aramoana. Where else did you go spearfishing and scuba diving?

CHILD: Oh, on the exposed areas of the Otago Peninsula. 

CRAWFORD: The south side? 

CHILD: Exposed areas of that.

CRAWFORD: Like where? Tomahawk?

CHILD: Further north of Tomahawk. 

CRAWFORD: Cape Saunders

CHILD: Yeah. And the submarine rock. 

CRAWFORD: So, right off the tip of the peninsula itself?

CHILD: Yeah, all those areas. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever go spearfishing down toward Green Island

CHILD: Yeah. Around Green Island, and some of the rocks further south of that. 

CRAWFORD: Taieri Mouth

CHILD: A bit further south of that, again. 

CRAWFORD: Did you do much diving that down in the Catlins? 

CHILD: Yes, but not so much.

CRAWFORD: Ok. Is it the case that during that part of your life - if you were in the water, you were spearfishing? 

CHILD: Not necessarily. Because I became very interested in what was living there too. 

CRAWFORD: You were doing the naturalist thing as well. Was that an even split? Were you sometimes poking around, and sometimes you might be spearfishing? 

CHILD: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Once you started scuba diving, did it have a significant effect on the amount of time that you were spearfishing versus the naturalist thing? 

CHILD: it didn’t affect me time-wise. But it did affect me, as to what I was looking at. And I always wanted to know why and how. So, I was able to answer those questions myself when I got more aware. 

CRAWFORD: When you started scuba diving in the late 1960s, did it affect the places that you went to? 

CHILD: Yes. 

CRAWFORD: Where would you have been more likely to be going when you were scuba diving? 

CHILD: Underneath the [WW2] gun emplacement on Otago Peninsula. 

CRAWFORD: Other than the head of the peninsula, where else would you have gone scuba diving? 

CHILD: Not many places, because you had to carry this tank around with you, and the weight belt. It was a long drama.

CRAWFORD: Right. At this point it was all shore-based. You had to have car access, or hump the gear. Did you ever go scuba diving further north?

CHILD: A little bit. Not much. Did a wee bit in the Karitane area, because it wasn’t so far away.  

CRAWFORD: What about further south? Did you do scuba diving down there? 

CHILD: Down as far as Brighton in those days. That was about as far as we went. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever scuba dive around Green Island? 

CHILD: No. Just snorkelled around it. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. You had mentioned before about the beginning of your commercial fishing career. When did that start?

CHILD: It was not that long after. Because of my dyslexia, I was kind of limited to what I could do easily. Some things I excelled at, like science. Other things, like maths – absolutely hopeless. Still to this day. 

CRAWFORD: Me too. [laughs]

CRAWFORD: Did you start crewing on somebody’s boat? 


CRAWFORD: You started on your own? 

CHILD: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: I'm guessing that this was long before you needed a Skippers’ certificate in order to operate a fishing vessel?

CHILD: I had a ticket. I went and got a ticket. 

CRAWFORD: You leased, borrowed or purchased a vessel? 

CHILD: Bought a vessel. 

CRAWFORD: Where did you dock, Port Chalmers

CHILD: Port Chalmers, yes.

CRAWFORD: What length was it? 

CHILD: 24-footer. 

CRAWFORD: What was it geared for? 

CHILD: It was geared for Crayfishing. But I had to do major changes on it to make it work properly. 

CRAWFORD: Once you started doing this, it was as a business full-time?


CRAWFORD: Once up and running, Crayfish was your primary target species? 


CRAWFORD: Were you using pots? 

CHILD: Yep. 

CRAWFORD: I'm presuming you were a day fisherman, out of Port Chalmers. What was your range? How far north or south would you go? 

CHILD: Potato Point, briefly. Just north of the peninsula, before Blueskin Bay. And as far south as Lion Rock, which is off Sandymount - where everybody goes to see the penguins. 

CRAWFORD: Based mostly around the peninsula. You said before that there were Crayfish all over the place, back in the day. 

CHILD: There was, yeah. Catching was another thing. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. So, you had to teach yourself how to Craypot. When you started Crayfishing on that vessel out of Port Chalmers, how many years did you do that for roughly? Ten years?  

CHILD: Oh, probably closer to 20 years. But I moved through various places. Ended up fishing here, out of Milford. 

CRAWFORD: How many years did you fish out of Port Chalmers to start? 

CHILD: Only a couple years. 

CRAWFORD: What was the next destination? 

CHILD: Then I ended up fishing out of [Pinaway Bar] down at Owaka.

CRAWFORD: Was that for a year, a couple of years? 

CHILD: Couple of years, that would have been. 

CRAWFORD: What was the next place that you moved to? 

CHILD: The next place was Chalky Inlet. And I didn’t fish there very long. Chalky, [Carsell], Nancy, didn’t fish there very long. 

CRAWFORD: Maybe a season or two? 

CHILD: Not even a season. But I got my foot in the door, kind of thing. Had a mishap with the boat, and we got towed up to Milford for repairs. And I never left. 

CRAWFORD: Do you remember the year that you got towed to Milford? Early 70s? 

CHILD: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: You were Crayfishing. Were you ever doing any other type of fishing?

CHILD: No, just Crayfishing. 

CRAWFORD: Was this a year-round fishery? 

CHILD: No, just seasonal. Which was about six months of the year. 

CRAWFORD: Winter or summer?

CHILD: Summer. 

CRAWFORD: In the off-season, when not fishing Crays, would you be inland doing other things? Or would you be on and around the coast still? 

CHILD: Oh, we had a go at linefishing. Not particularly successfully, but we had a go at it. 

CRAWFORD: Roughly, what was the region that you would fish out of Milford Sound? 

CHILD: I fished mostly from the entrance to Milford, down to Poison Bay, or a bit further to Bligh Sound. That’s called Four Mile.

CRAWFORD: As time went on, did you expand your range of where you went? 

CHILD: Well, I got a bigger boat, which means I could sleep in it. 

CRAWFORD: What size of a boat was that? 

CHILD: That was a 28-footer. And it was sort of set up more for being able to go further.

CRAWFORD: Overnight trips. Did you have a freezer on it? 

CHILD: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: You were going how far down south? 

CHILD: Still just down to Bligh Sound was about my limit. 

CRAWFORD: Did you go north at all from here? 

CHILD: I went up to Martins Bay. But things changed then, because I found the boat was quite good for catching Tuna. So I started Crayfish come early March, or even earlier than that, early February. Just leaving the gear in the water, and chasing the Tuna. 

CRAWFORD: By 'chasing' you mean up towards Greymouth - that kind of thing? 

CHILD: Not that far.

CRAWFORD: But past Haast

CHILD: Up to about Haast, up the coast. 

CRAWFORD: Those were overnight trips, or week-long trips, that kind of thing?

CHILD: Sometimes overnight. Sometimes just big long hours of steam out there. Catch fish, steam back. 

CRAWFORD: Was that a mix then? Cray-Tuna operation?

CHILD: No. Then it was Tuna. The Tuna only lasted about two to three months

CRAWFORD: Then you’d be back Crayfishing again?

CHILD: Yeah. And bringing the gear in, and tying it up. 

CRAWFORD: Roughly, how long did you fish that way till? 

CHILD: I could work backwards here because we opened the Underwater Observatory in December ’95. And I was feeling a pinch at that point.

CRAWFORD: Economically?

CHILD: Yeah. It was very few Crayfish around, yeah. We built the Observatory over a period of a year, a year and a half. I was gathering animals to put in the gardens, and things like that. For about ten years, either crossing over with my Crayfishing, or whatever else I was doing. 

CRAWFORD: 1995 is when the Discovery Centre and Observatory opened. When it opened, were you in charge of it? 

CHILD: Yes. 

CRAWFORD: Was that was your full-time gig then? You were no longer a commercial Crayfisherman or Tunaman by then?

CHILD: I sold my Crayfish quota and my boat. 

CRAWFORD: And in 1995, you become manager of the Observatory. How long did you hold that position for? 

CHILD: For 15 years, I think. 

CRAWFORD: So, about 1995 to 2010? 

CHILD: Yeah, about that. 

CRAWFORD: For that period, you were responsible for the facility, the operations. Were you responsible for visitors and all the rest of it? 

CHILD: Well, yeah. I had to make it all work. If it broke, I had to fix it. 

CRAWFORD: You were THE guy for all aspects of it?

CHILD: Which was too much. 

CRAWFORD: Right. Then in 2010, you left that position. What did you do then? 

CHILD: I went back to Te Anau, where I lived. That was my home base, my partner as well. But I was still the fix-it man for the Observatory. They called me in when they realized something was up.

CRAWFORD: Would you maybe be called out four or five times a year? 

CHILD: No. There were always things that needed attention - and continue to need attention. So, I started once per month, now it’s once every six weeks down there. 

CRAWFORD: Is your expertise required for the facility as a whole, or mainly for diving, or other outside stuff? 

CHILD: Through my work with Oceanographic, and my own experiences, I had to look after the marine environment as well, and create the underwater gardens. That was the whole point of the thing. 

CRAWFORD: Those are the gardens that are lowered and lifted every day at the underwater observatory?

CHILD: I was dealing with that, and there was a very steep learning curve, just the way animals lived and why they lived there, how deep did the fresh water layer get to these various places and so on.

CRAWFORD: Once you had that knowledge and that expertise, they were constantly running into changes or issues or problems or whatever? And you’ve got the institutional memory, so you would be called in to advise them? 

CHILD: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: And that includes scuba diving throughout that entire period? Were you diving in the region of the Observatory, throughout the time that you were managing? 

CHILD: Yes, because I was doing ongoing gatherings of various animals. 

CRAWFORD: And when you left as a manager, you were brought back in - including diving jobs? 

CHILD: Yes. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. Does that bring us up to the present? 

CHILD: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Have I missed anything? Is there anything substantial, in terms of your experience with New Zealand coastal waters? Experience that we haven’t talked about so far? 



CRAWFORD: How much has Māori culture and knowledge affected what you know about marine ecosystems? 

CHILD: Very Low. 

CRAWFORD: How much has Science culture and knowledge affected your understanding of marine ecosystems?

CHILD: I’ve been very lucky, in that I have a fairly high knowledge of how it all ticks. 

CRAWFORD: You've had a natural passion for that, ever since you were a kid. 

CHILD: That’s the key ingredient. You need to have that, to start with. And I am a bit of an artist. I haven’t done much recently, but I used to draw all the muscle structures of brachiopods for science papers. 

CRAWFORD: If you had to rank the effect of Science on your understanding, would it be High or Very High?

CHILD: Well, Very High I think

CRAWFORD: I think so too. 


CRAWFORD: Think back to the first time you recall hearing about White Pointers. When did they first exist in your mind? 

CHILD: When Graham [Hitt] had got killed on the [Otago] Peninsula. I’m not sure what year that was. 

CRAWFORD: How did you come to know about that. 

CHILD: Just word of mouth, newspapers, full-page newspapers. 

CRAWFORD: Do you remember how old you were at the time, roughly? 

CHILD: Yeah. It would have been when I was 25, or something. 

CRAWFORD: You were already snorkeling, spearfishing, stuff like that by that point? Where you already scuba diving? 

CHILD: Yes, yes. 

CRAWFORD: You were a young man in your early 20s, and you were picking up this passion for the marine environment, particularly for snorkeling and spearfishing. Did the old-timers ever take you aside and say "You know, kid, you’ve really got to watch out for these places, because there are White Pointers around"?

CHILD: No. Any of the attacks that happened were well-documented in the big newspaper. 

CRAWFORD: But did they truly come as a massive surprise to everybody in Dunedin? 

CHILD: I don’t think so, but they set up the shark nets. 

CRAWFORD: But that was afterward. I’m talking about prior to the attacks.

CHILD: No. I heard little or nothing. Having said that, I knew I was in a shark environment. 

CRAWFORD: Some old-timers tell me that back in the day, they were 'sharks' - they weren’t 'White Pointers.’ You may have known that the Otago Peninsula was 'sharky,' but prior to the attacks, did you ever see any sharks of any kind there? 

CHILD: Not prior to. But after the attacks, I did. 

CRAWFORD: The awareness may have changed. Did the news of the attacks change the way that you behaved? Did it change where or when you went diving? 

CHILD: Well, I got a Zodiac [inflatable boat]. And that meant I could go to much different places, which were more fruitful as far as going Pāua diving. They were also more fruitful as far as sharks go, because we used to see them off the Puddingstone Rock

CRAWFORD: Sharks in general, or White Pointers? 

CHILD: White Pointers. 

CRAWFORD: I had asked if the old-timers took you aside as a kid, but you said no, there wasn’t any indication like that. You said the first time it lit up on your radar screen was these attacks in your Dunedin backyard. And then there was this incident at Puddingstone Rock. Did other people see White Pointers around the Otago Peninsula or north or south of there, while you were there?

CHILD: I don’t really remember talking about it much with anybody. I was good friends with people. I spent quite a bit of time with other fishermen.

CRAWFORD: At Port Chalmers as well?

CHILD: But there was never much talk about White Pointers. They just weren’t a common thing. 

CRAWFORD: Were there sightings by others out at Aramoana? By boarders or swimmers or spearfishermen?

CHILD: There were other comments about sharks by people who had seen them. But again, it wasn’t many. Those people who got killed, they weren’t the first sharks to be seen. I mean they were the first in recent history to be killed or hurt. But prior to that, people had on occasion seen sharks there.

CRAWFORD: Back in the day, were there surfers working that stretch of coastline? Or mostly just swimmers and spearfisherman? 

CHILD: It never got its name for surfing until much later. 

CRAWFORD: So, anybody who was using those waters was probably either swimming or spearfishing or Pāua diving. But around the Otago Peninsula itself, those are rugged and exposed waters. They are not immediately accessible. When you were out there, I would imagine, the only other people that would be out there would have been fishermen like yourself. The other people working out of Port Chalmers, did they ever talk about seeing White Pointers off the peninsula? 

CHILD: I don’t remember it coming up in conversation, no. 

CRAWFORD: Did anybody ever talk about seeing White Pointers in Otago Harbour? 

CHILD: Yep. 

CRAWFORD: What do you remember them saying about that? 

CHILD: I saw a photo somewhere. It was a White Pointer hanging up by his tail. And it was a funny-looking guy standing around with a mustache. And it had been caught inside the harbour. But I'm not sure when. I don’t know the time. 

CRAWFORD: You know that they were in the Harbour, but you don’t know much more about it than that?

CHILD: They certainly weren’t prolific. 

CRAWFORD: Did any of the Port Chalmers fishermen, or anybody else that you knew, had they ever seen White Pointers along that stretch between - say Tomahawk and Green Island? Or even further south to Brighton? 

CHILD: I don’t really remember. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. Dunedin City Council shark nets. Do you recall when they went out? 

CHILD: I recall them, but I can’t remember how old I was.

CRAWFORD: Did you ever pass them? 

CHILD: Yes, we passed them. 

CRAWFORD: Did you know the guys that were fishing them? 

CHILD: No, not particularly.

CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear through the grapevine what the results of the shark nets were? Were they catching sharks, that type of thing? 

CHILD: I think we came to the conclusion it was pretty much a big waste of time.

CRAWFORD: Was that kind of a general consensus? 

CHILD: Yeah. As far as I know, the guys got to keep the sharks that got caught in these nets. But you know, the nets were this big [small], and the coast was this big [large].

CRAWFORD: Maybe 5% of the beach was being covered. And even then, it wasn’t a barrier.

CHILD: No. I think it was intended to help the people, but I don’t think they were that forward-thinking. I think they thought “Oh you can catch these sharks in the nets.”

CRAWFORD: in general, did you ever hear if those nets were even effective? Were White Pointers caught in those nets? 

CHILD: I think there was a very small number. A few small White Pointers caught. I don’t think they were non-existent. I think there was a few, but not many. 

CRAWFORD: But as you said before, it was perhaps more an exercise in public relations than anything else. 

CHILD: Well, it turned out to be that. They were put in the water to actually catch the responsible sharks.

CRAWFORD: To kill the ones responsible for the attacks?  

CHILD: Yes. And although they got sharks, they didn’t get many. I don’t think it was particularly effective. They must have made some money out of it, because it was a contractual arrangement, and you know, they went back and did it for a few years. 

CRAWFORD: It went on for several years. 

CHILD: But then I think people started to realize that this was a silly waste of time. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever see a documentary called 'Tangled Waters'? 


CRAWFORD: Ok. So, there was a spate of attacks, fatal encounters at Aramoana, St. Clair, St. Kilda. In a short geographic space, in a short period of time. And then nothing. No attacks after that. What accounts for that? 

CHILD: I think quite probably, what has moderate bearing on it is the shark's food source. I think round about the time that those sharks killed those people - prior to that, I think the state of the fisheries was a lot bigger, by quite a bit, than it is now. And round about the time that the sharks gulped those people - that was a bit later. and I think fish were getting a bit harder to track down as a food source. 

CRAWFORD: When you were spending time fishing out of Port Chalmers, was that the kind of transition from the good days to the bad days for the fishery?

CHILD: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Do you remember in that region at that time, the state of the Seal populations? Specifically, the Seal colonies around the Otago Peninsula?

CHILD: I think it was reasonably healthy to start with. 

CRAWFORD: There were plenty of Seals around. You had seen them?


CRAWFORD: Did you ever see or hear from others, about a shark attack on a Seal? Or perhaps the remnants of a Seal after a shark attack? 

CHILD: We had seen it. Just occasionally. 

CRAWFORD: Like a Seal carcass? Bits and pieces? 

CHILD: Yeah. There are little coves south of Taiaroa Head. There’s no way I’d get in the water and swim around there. Although, having said that, later on we did.

CRAWFORD: [laughs] There’s no way! There’s no way you’d do that, Alistair!

CHILD: [laughs] 

CRAWFORD: ... and then you went out and did it! 

CHILD: Well, it depends what you’re after. We found the wreckage of the Bruce and the Tyrone, and we dived in those wrecks. My friend got the ship’s wheel off that. So, we did a lot of diving close to the shore. 

CRAWFORD: Do you ever recall hearing about, or seeing, any fish waste being dumped off Taiaroa Head? 

CHILD: Oh, yeah. They had a big chute, that just went ‘woosh’ straight down. 

CRAWFORD: Where did that waste come from, do you remember? 

CHILD: It was coming from the fishing companies. Company or companies.

CRAWFORD: Do you know where the plants were? 

CHILD: Otakou Fisheries and [Wrightson's]. They were down around the wharf area. 

CRAWFORD: They were trucking the waste, and dumping it off the Heads. You saw the dumping? 

CHILD: Yeah. I didn’t see them actually doing it, I saw it ten minutes afterwards, kind of thing. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever see sharks of any kind responding to the dump?

CHILD: No. No, I didn’t. Because the stuff sinks quite rapidly. Generally doesn’t float.

CRAWFORD: Were the Mollymawks and the other seabirds around? 

CHILD: Oh, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: In the times that you saw the fish dumps, was it a regular kind of event? 

CHILD: No. We just went down there to do whatever we did.

CRAWFORD: You were just passing by?

CHILD: Yeah. We didn’t go down to see them, as such. We just happened to be down there, and there’s the chute, and there was quite a few fish around. Obviously you could tell there’d been a recent dump. 

CRAWFORD: When you transferred your fishing operation away from Port Chalmers, you fished your way around the south end of the South Island. In all of the time that you did that, did the old-timers or the locals ever tell you about sharks in the region? The Catlins? Foveaux Strait?

CHILD: I seem to remember talking to somebody about sharks. Because we were down there Pāua diving at the time. A bit, but not much. But the only two we ever saw while we were Pāua diving was the two off Cape Saunders that we talked about earlier on. 

CRAWFORD: And you weren’t actually Pāua diving at the time - you were in a Zodiac on your way to Pāua dive?

CHILD: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: When you worked your way past Foveaux Strait, did people talk about White Pointers down there? 

CHILD: I really went from Bluff, straight around to Preservation Inlet.

CRAWFORD: And it wasn’t long before you came up here to Milford.

CHILD: There was myself, one other guy, there was about three of us. Terrible thing to do, but we didn’t know any better in those days. We used nets to catch bait to put in the Crayfish pots. And it wasn’t uncommon to have big, big holes in your net. 

CRAWFORD: So, you had seen some indirect evidence, but you didn’t know what. Presumably a shark, but you didn’t know what kind?

CHILD: Judging by the size of the hole in the net, it was probably something quite big. 

CRAWFORD: Like how big a hole? 

CHILD: Around two metres long.

CRAWFORD: When you got up to Milford Sound, did any of the fisherman take you aside and say "You know, there are certain times or places that we get White Pointers here." Did you ever hear anything like that? 

CHILD: No. Because they’re so infrequent. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. Tell me about Seal colonies back in the day - specifically along this stretch of Fiordland. Were there places that had large numbers? 

CHILD: The Seal colonies, I think they declined quite dramatically around south of Milford. Places like Poison Bay Island didn’t seem to have as many as it used to. 

CRAWFORD: Their numbers went down?

CHILD: I have to say that I think a lot of the Seals got shot.

CRAWFORD: Shot for what reason? 

CHILD: Fun. 

CRAWFORD: Shot for fun? And this was after protection? It was kind of ‘on the hush’? 

CHILD: It was. I remember at one point when I was fishing out of Jackson’s Bay, and my boat had a jet unit. We always left in the dark in the mornings, and this guy in a boat ahead of me, as we came up behind him, there was this plastic container - a cargo box with a plastic liner which would have had bait in it. They just hoofed it over the side, and it was floating around in the dark. I managed to miss it, but it could have easily gone into my jet unit, and that would have been the end of me for the day. I’d probably have to get towed home or something. And I got on the radio to this guy and I said "Why can’t you take this rubbish. The plastic will destroy my seals" - and I was talking about seals on the jet unit. The radio came back on from his end and said "Ah, not the Seals. I shoot ‘em every time I see ‘em."

CRAWFORD: Was there the feeling that the Seals were having a negative effect on the fishery or was it just ...

CHILD: Yeah. A lot of people think that. They probably still do. 

CRAWFORD: In terms of the other people who were fishing out of Milford Sound, did other people see White Pointers? Do you remember any stories? 

CHILD: Yeah. There was definitely one or two seen visually.

CRAWFORD: On the north side?

CHILD: Yeah, north of Milford. 

CRAWFORD: Yates Point? 

CHILD: Further north than that. 

CRAWFORD: So, some animals were seen from time to time. Do you ever remember if it was a summer or winter thing? 

CHILD: It would have been summer, because we were fishing inshore. 

CRAWFORD: Is it possible that people were still out in the winter, but not seeing them? Or was it mostly because there less fishing activity in the winter? 

CHILD: Hard to say. These ones which were seen, they were close inshore - in about three fathoms of water. 

CRAWFORD: In Milford Sound, several of the Skippers and others have been explaining to me the dynamics of the sounds. Not just Milford Sound, but Doubtful and the others. You get this precipitation, you get the freshwater layer over the saltwater layer, and that can have a dramatic influence on distribution of the White Pointers - but also on our human ability to perceive them, even if they were there.

CHILD: I’ve got pictures of me in the water holding a dead Mako, and I swam up the Observatory windows with this fish. It wasn’t huge - a metre to a meter and a half. They were looking at this fish through the windows. Even the photograph I’ve got, it looks like it's alive, because it's pristine, it's so good. What had actually happened, I believe, is that it had swum up the fiord. That particular night there was a very big rain storm, and the Makos spend a lot of time up at the surface. I think he drowned himself by accident.

CRAWFORD: It got into the freshwater layer, and was not able to osmoregulate?

CHILD: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: You said it was in good condition, it wasn’t an old animal or didn’t appear to be sick or damaged in any way. Would it be fair to say that, based on that observation and your thinking of how things work, that the freshwater layer is such an important part of the ecosystem dynamics of Milford Sound and the other fiords? Is it actually something that sharks would perceive as a threat? That they would avoid it? 

CHILD: I don’t know whether they actually perceive anything. Like they certainly would, I expect, move away from the area. But they’ve got to move a long way, because those freshwater layers, they go out as a river right out to sea. 

CRAWFORD: All the way out to the Tasman?

CHILD: Oh, yeah. Way out. 

CRAWFORD: There are also some dramatic changes to the depth of that freshwater layer. 

CHILD: Well, that day we found the Mako near the Observatory, the freshwater layer would have been down about 8 metres - just overnight. From little or nothing, to 8 metres. That’s fairly unusual - getting that much in one hit. This last bunch of storms that went through, they had 700 and something millimetres of rain over two days, and the freshwater layer didn’t get to the gardens - even though there’s a couple of corals there that would be higher above the gardens. 

CRAWFORD: These are the black corals at the Observatory? 

CHILD: Yeah. They weren’t affected by it. So, I would say the freshwater layer probably only got down to 7 metres from that particular storm.

CRAWFORD: Over the long term, what’s the deepest freshwater you've seen? 

CHILD: 18 metres.

CRAWFORD: Wow. What’s the normal fluctuation range? 

CHILD: From 0 to 3 metres. 

CRAWFORD: And it can extend far out?

CHILD: Well, it just flows out. As the tides come in, this bit of the tide wants to be the same height as that bit of the tide, so it raises it up. And it can’t raise it up, because there’s all this freshwater on top. So, the freshwater immediately starts flowing out to sea like a river. And it flows out quite fast. We know that because in the early days, the fishermen used to have a lot of their Crayfish that were being held in containers and things on board their boat. If they forgot to turn the valve off, and they crossed from north of Milford to south of Milford ...

CRAWFORD: They’d be pumping freshwater rather than saltwater ...

CHILD: And they killed all their Crayfish. 

CRAWFORD: That’s interesting. So, these fiords are very, very dynamic with regards to their constant interaction between freshwater and saltwater. Also, in terms of visibility. People can be looking at a tannin-rich, freshwater surface layer with very low visibility, and there could be all sorts of things potentially happening in the saltwater layer beneath, but with that kind of dark lens nobody would see anything. What was your experience with that? 

CHILD: All the fish in and around the Observatory are locals, and they’re not moving for anybody. They stay there, and they have to deal with the rise and fall of freshwater, and they just go deeper if they need to. When the weather is good for really long periods, that’s the time when we see some extraordinary things. Mostly animals that are drifting in with the ocean currents. Like the plankton with the long curtain tentacles hanging down.

CRAWFORD: Portuguese Man-of-War? 

CHILD: No, they’re huge - they take up the whole wall, like a curtain with the main body of the animal floating up here, and drops its tentacles down. The only other place you’d normally see those is way out in the middle of the ocean. Here we are inside Milford Sound and lots of those little animals, people don’t understand, they go down in the Observatory expecting to see the Giant Groper, or something or other. And I’ll point out this little black Triplefin. And people say "Why is he black?" I say "He’s black, because he’s sexually active." They have a bit of a laugh there. I say "Well, if you think that’s bad, you know, he’s got a nest there and a nest there, and look - he’s chasing that other male away, and there he is fertilizing another female who's arrived. He’s a really successful fish, this, because he’s got about six of his own nests on the go, with more females coming in to join the party." And by this stage they’re welded to the window for the next thing that’s going along. They've forgotten the Giant Groper, and they come up saying they have had a jolly good time. Or the other one was the Ten-Legged Starfish who loses one of his legs in a battle with some other one. Anyway, the leg floats away and the sea star carries on its business. And I said "Imagine if you were walking up the street ..." - these kids are about nine years old or so - "Imagine walking up the street one day, and here’s this person walks towards you. He’s exactly the same as you. Exactly the same as you, except he’s got an arm missing! Or half an arm missing. That’s what the star fish can do. They can lose their whole body, and the one leg can survive and the body can survive." Gets a little trippy.

CRAWFORD: What are the types of things that you can see in the saltwater layer, that you wouldn’t be able to if the fresh water layer was there? Whales, Dolphins, stuff like that? 

CHILD: You see, I’ve never seen a whale up past Dale Point, although they have come up ... Oh, yes I have, once I have. 

CRAWFORD: I’m just trying to get at observations, that you can see things in a different viewing environment. Specifically, did you ever see sharks of any other kind in Milford Sound? 

CHILD: Sevengillers. 

CRAWFORD: If you can see a Sevengiller, then if there was a White Pointer around, you probably would have been able to see it too. Given the observation conditions.

CHILD: I see what you mean. That’s correct. 

CRAWFORD: It would be reasonable to say that it's highly unlikely the White Pointers are coming very far into the fiords. Based on what you and others have said, they are out there, but they are seen infrequently. They may occasionally pick up a quick meal at Seal Rock, but it doesn’t seem that you’re finding that kind of residency that you might in other places. Does all of that seem pretty consistent with your knowledge? 

CHILD: Yeah, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: You had also talked before about the submerged geography on this side of the South Island, compared to the submerged geography on the east side. 

CHILD: Well, I think generally speaking, there are probably a lot more White Pointers on the east coast, than there is here on the west coast. Simply because you’ve got those feeding grounds there that are more to the likings of sharks

CRAWFORD: What kinds of feeding grounds? 

CHILD: Well, the flatish. Sandy bottoms. Not too many rocks on the east coast.

CRAWFORD: And what’s it like over here? 

CHILD: Very, very rocky. 

CRAWFORD: What’s the slope like here? 

CHILD: Deep water, close in to the shore. Very steep, yeah. 


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