Experience: Commercial Fisherman, Scuba Diver
Regions: Otago, Catlins, Foveaux Strait, Rakiura/Stewart Island
Interview Location: Port Chalmers, NZ
Interview Date: 15 November 2015
Post Date: 17 May 2017; Copyright © 2017 Ate Heineman and Steve Crawford
4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCES
CRAWFORD: Let’s talk about you diving. How many times have you seen White Pointers while diving?
HEINEMAN: Only once that I’m positive about.
CRAWFORD: Roughly when was this? 80s? 90s?
HEINEMAN: Yeah no, it was relatively recently. Six, eight years ago.
CRAWFORD: Where was it?
HEINEMAN: It was at Pegasus at Stewart Island. Port Pegasus.
CRAWFORD: What happened?
HEINEMAN: I was looking around for Scallops. Diving a bit deeper for Scallops than I normally do. Just looking around to see as much about where they’re might be Scallops, and looking for different areas, rather than actually looking for a feed. But I was picking a feed up as I was going.
CRAWFORD: Roughly what depth?
HEINEMAN: I was probably in about 40 feet of water. And diving on my own. And had a guy in a dinghy hanging around above me. But nobody else in the water. And a shark just cruised past, didn’t appear to take any notice of me. Came up from behind, and just swum past.
HEINEMAN: No, this guy just swam past, and I never saw him again.
CRAWFORD: So, this was a Level 2 swim-by?
CRAWFORD: You said it came up from behind you, so you don’t even know if it went out of its way, or whether you happened to be on its way when it was coming past.
HEINEMAN: I’ve got no idea.
CRAWFORD: I would imagine it kind of surprises to see something that big in the first place.
HEINEMAN: Oh, very surprised and initially curious - was my initial reaction. It didn’t appear to threaten me in any way. And I carried on and picked up a couple more scallops, and then thought “To hell with it, I’m getting out of here.”
CRAWFORD: You said that there was a guy in a dinghy on the surface. Was he reasonably close to you when this happened?
CRAWFORD: Did he see anything?
CRAWFORD: This all happened completely without the guy on the surface even knowing that the fish was there?
HEINEMAN: That’s right. But he knew from my tone of voice to come and pick me up quite quickly.
CRAWFORD: The guy in the dinghy didn’t see the shark. You were in 40 feet of water, but I’m assuming the water was fairly clear.
HEINEMAN: Oh, no. You wouldn’t have been able to see 40 feet.
CRAWFORD: No? Ok, so that was an unfair reasoning on my part? But the point is, there could be sharks in coastal waters all over the place - sharks that people just don’t see. Several fisherman have brought that point up - when you’re on the deck of a boat, you’re limited in what you can see in the water.
HEINEMAN: Most of the time you can’t see very far under the water at all. Right beside the boat, yeah, you’ll see Muttonbirds diving and that sort of thing.
CRAWFORD: And if it’s calm …
HEINEMAN: You can see a little bit more.
CRAWFORD: You can see some shadows moving around and stuff?
HEINEMAN: That’s right.
CRAWFORD: If it’s windy, which it often is, if the currents are moving fast, the tides are doing their thing, it’s a little cloudy or stormy or whatever.
HEINEMAN: A lot of the time you wouldn’t see anything that’s any more than a metre under the water.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Getting back to you, after seeing the White Pointer when you were scuba-diving for Scallops …
HEINEMAN: Yeah. I felt quite vulnerable on the surface with my feet hanging down.
CRAWFORD: That’s an interesting thing too, because the circumstances under which people see these fish … It’s different if you’re a Pāua diver, when you’re free-diving, right? You’re at the surface, grabbing your breath, then going down for you know, a minute, a minute and a half or whatever. As opposed to a scuba-diver, where you’re down there for longer - you’re not bouncing up and down so much?
HEINEMAN: And have a lot more time to study it.
CRAWFORD: What do you remember when you did study it? What do you remember of the shark?
HEINEMAN: The colouring was the first thing. And it was swimming with its mouth sort of open a bit. And all these teeth.
CRAWFORD: All the teeth, but not … the teeth weren’t jutting out or anything.
HEINEMAN: No, no. They were just in its mouth. He didn’t have his mouth open and his lips curled back.
CRAWFORD: Was the mouth moving at all?
HEINEMAN: Not that I recall.
CRAWFORD: Just casual?
HEINEMAN: And the eye. The eye was something that perhaps I concentrated on. I don’t know.
CRAWFORD: If he came from behind you, would you have seen …
HEINEMAN: When I saw him, he was abreast of me. His head was abreast to my head.
CRAWFORD: You looked over?
HEINEMAN: Yeah. I don’t know what made me look out there, perhaps I was looking backwards or forwards, and I would have been looking to see where there were Scallops.
CRAWFORD: Maybe saw a shadow, or who knows what?
HEINEMAN: That’s right.
CRAWFORD: You said something about colouration?
HEINEMAN: You see the white coming up the side of it, and the speckle-ness of where it meets the grey, sort of thing.
CRAWFORD: I know it’s difficult to estimate size - but if you had to guess, what would you guess?
HEINEMAN: I would have said he was three, perhaps four metres. But how much of that is excitement? I don’t know.
CRAWFORD: It’s the same with everybody. Male or female? Do you remember?
HEINEMAN: No. I don’t, no.
CRAWFORD: And then it was gone, leisurely?
CRAWFORD: No change in …
HEINEMAN: No change in the swimming that I noticed, or anything like that. Yeah, the whole thing seemed to be very leisurely. And that’s why initially I didn’t feel threatened.
CRAWFORD: Just when you were up top …
HEINEMAN: After I sort of carried on for another 30 seconds or whatever it was, I just kept thinking about this thing and making myself more paranoid, I suppose.
CRAWFORD: It’s entirely understandable that anyone in the wild … you feel vulnerable when you’re in the water and a larger animal comes around. Hooker’s Sea Lion … as a matter of fact, I’ve had Pāua divers who have said “Between a White Pointer and a Hooker’s Sea Lion, I’ll take the White Pointer." Because they have seen some of the shark swim-by’s and didn’t feel threatened. I think the point that they were trying to make was not that they didn’t feel any less vulnerable with a White Pointer, it’s just that a Sea Lion - when it’s decided that you are it’s play thing - they are massive as well, they can be vicious, and they are entirely intimidating. Like the heads on them are this big, right?
HEINEMAN: I know. I recall one day when we were diving at Stewart Island with a Hooker’s Sea Lion in the area. And he’s sitting above Bryan Scott who was in the water with me. And the Sea Lion has his mouth open over the back of Bryan’s head, just sitting there trying to catch the bubbles. I went over to Bryan and said “Let’s get out of here.” Then we were talking about it on the surface he said “I’m thinking about calling the dive off.” And then I told him why I called it off, and he said “Oh, was he doing it to me too?” Obviously, he’d been doing the same thing to me, and I couldn’t see it. I’d only seen him doing it to Bryan.
CRAWFORD: The Sea Lion was floating above you, and he was mouthing your bubbles?
HEINEMAN: Yeah. But he had his mouth open over the top of our heads. All he had to do was close it. and he’d crush your head.
CRAWFORD: Holy shit.
HEINEMAN: But he never attacked.
CRAWFORD: Alright. Ok, then. Anything else - specifically in the South, Southland coast and the Stewart Island region, any other shark stories that you’ve heard of?
HEINEMAN: We did see another one, one day when we were round getting a fed of Blue Cod. We started losing fish on the way up.
CRAWFORD: This was recreational fishing?
CRAWFORD: Were you jigging or what?
HEINEMAN: Oh, just rod fishing of the back of the boat. And we started losing fish, and one might have come up, a couple might have come up, cut in half and that sort of thing. And next thing one swam across the back of the boat. It was, we sort of thought about the same size three to four metres.
CRAWFORD: You had a fish on, you were reeling it in. Did you get the feeling that the White Pointer took it?
HEINEMAN: Yeah. Definitely.
CRAWFORD: When you were fishing, was that something that was relatively rare, or was it happening a fair bit?
HEINEMAN: No, it doesn’t happen a lot. No. That was off Port Adventure, at the big reef.
CRAWFORD: And you said that the shark swam …
HEINEMAN: Across the back of the boat. Quite aggressive sort of behaviour. Whether it was aggressive, I don’t know but …
CRAWFORD: Making a splash?
CRAWFORD: Is that when he had a fish that was on the line in his mouth, that he was doing this behaviour?
HEINEMAN: Yeah, he didn’t roll over. He just… and targeting other fish that some of the others were pulling up at the same time. It wasn’t just satisfied with the one. He wanted another one as well.
CRAWFORD: How did you guys respond? I mean did you just pull up the lines?
HEINEMAN: Well, we were starting to lose fish and. you know. they were coming up chopped in half. So we didn’t see any point staying there.
CRAWFORD: Did you move to a different location? Do you remember?
HEINEMAN: I don’t recall now but I think we just moved away, and probably had enough fish. We were only looking for tea. So we certainly weren’t looking for numbers of fish.
CRAWFORD: And to be clear, you didn’t know it was a White Pointer when you brought up the half fish?
HEINEMAN: Well, we didn’t expect until we saw him.
CRAWFORD: Right, but then you definitely see a White Pointer right there. I think most people would think that’s reasonable grounds to say that the half fish that you had was the result of this animal.
HEINEMAN: That’s what we put it down to.
CRAWFORD: Fair enough. The nature of the cut, was it a clean cut or a ragged cut, do you remember?
HEINEMAN: It was reasonably ragged.
Copyright © 2017 Ate Heineman and Steve Crawford