Barry Bethune


YOB: 1940
Experience: Commercial Fisherman, Recreational Fisherman
Regions: Catlins
Interview Location: Kaka Point, NZ
Interview Date: 17 February 2016
Post Date: 11 November 2017; Copyright © 2017 Barry Bethune and Steve Crawford


CRAWFORD: When you were out there, did you see any White Pointers?

BETHUNE: When I had me clinker dinghy at Tautuku, before commercial fishing, we had one pull up alongside.

CRAWFORD: Was this the first time you ever saw a White Pointer in the wild? 

BETHUNE: First close encounter, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: What year was this, roughly? 

BETHUNE: 1968, 69.

CRAWFORD: Time of year? 

BETHUNE: I know exactly - New Year's Day. 

CRAWFORD: And you were out on which boat? 

BETHUNE: The clinker dinghy - 16 foot. 


BETHUNE: Just south of the Tautuku Peninsula. 

CRAWFORD: You were rod-and-reel fishing? 


CRAWFORD: What happened?

BETHUNE: We’re fishing, and we had a danline down as well. There’s three of us in the boat - nothing much doing, so we decided to lift this danline. The health wasn’t really good, because we’d had a big night New Year's Eve. We lifted the danline, and there was about a 4-5 foot Sand Shark on the hand line, on the set line. And we ended up on the side of the boat, and we’re knocking him on the head to kill him before we got him into the boat. And there was this vibration, it was hitting some of the boat. And this bloody submarine, it just came up out of nowhere, and lay alongside the boat - and it was longer than the boat. We looked at one another, and we decided it was time to go home. And to this day, me brothers were with me, there were three of us in the boat, and we got home and they said "Big night on the beer?" and "Do you think you imagined it!?" [laughs] And I said "No, we didn’t!" 

CRAWFORD: All 3 of you imagined it? 


CRAWFORD: In terms of that classification system between humans and White Pointers 1-4, what you rate this incident?

BETHUNE: Level 2.

CRAWFORD: Like a swim-by. But do you reckon that animal - it being so close to you, was it interacting with you?

BETHUNE: Well, he just came up along the boat and virtually lay there.

CRAWFORD: Just did you see its eyes? Did you get idea its eyes were on you guys? 

BETHUNE: Yeah, for sure. 

CRAWFORD: Did it circle around after laying up alongside? 

BETHUNE: Just stationary. 

CRAWFORD: Most people have it in their mind that White Pointers have to keep swimming all the time ...

BETHUNE: Yeah, yeah.

CRAWFORD: Was it really stationary, or maybe gliding? 

BETHUNE: Well, we’d be drifting at that stage, but you know, it kept there with us. Just, it was there. 

CRAWFORD: Roughly how long do you reckon do you think it was? 

BETHUNE: it was longer than our 16-foot boat by a good 2 feet. An 18- footer.

CRAWFORD: How long did it stay with you? 

BETHUNE: It didn’t get a chance. We turned the motor on and pissed off - rapidly. 

CRAWFORD: So, the actual interaction was what - 15 seconds? 

BETHUNE: Longer than that.

CRAWFORD: But less than a minute?


CRAWFORD: As far as you know, the animal didn’t follow you? 


CRAWFORD: When it came up, did the dorsal fin break the surface? 


CRAWFORD: The back? 

BETHUNE: No, just the fin. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. So, that was your first encounter.

BETHUNE: That was me first close one, yeah.

CRAWFORD: How many encounters have you had with White Pointers? 


CRAWFORD: That first incident was prior to your commercial fishing history. Was your second incident also in that recreational fishing phase, or your commercial days? 

BETHUNE: The second encounter was when I was still in a rock hopper. 

CRAWFORD: Was this before the clinker dinghy?

BETHUNE: The red boat, it was all round about the same time. 

CRAWFORD: What time of year? 

BETHUNE: It was Labour Weekend.

CRAWFORD: And Labour Weekend in New Zealand is when? 

BETHUNE: Oh, October. 

CRAWFORD: So, this was Spring for you. Where were you? 

BETHUNE: Cosgrove Island, at Long Point. We were rock fishing.

CRAWFORD: Pretty close to shore. 

BETHUNE: No, we were in reasonably deep water. 

CRAWFORD: Like what? 

BETHUNE: 12-15 fathom. 

CRAWFORD: Rod and reel fishing? 


CRAWFORD: What kind of fish were you catching? 

BETHUNE: Groper. 

CRAWFORD: What happened? 

BETHUNE: We were just standing on ... there’s 3 ledges on it, and depending on your sea condition, it affects which ledge you were fishing. Standing up above there one day, and cleaning Groper - and of course, the heads were getting chucked back in.

CRAWFORD: And you’re on shore?

BETHUNE: Yeah, yep. And once again, just the same kind of encounter as had out on the boat. It bloody just appeared out of nowhere. And us standing on the rocks - it was a big fish, it just looked like a bloody submarine when he surfaced. Just up it came, and at that time, everybody ... it used to be a popular rock to fish ... that fish was seen there on a regular basis, for a couple of years. 

CRAWFORD: Really? Roughly what year was this? 

BETHUNE: I’d say '65-'70. 

CRAWFORD: In this case you saw it in Spring. But was there any distinguishing feature, like any scars or anything that people recognized that individual fish? 

BETHUNE: No, it never came that high out of the water. It would be down 7 or 8 feet in the water. And it was just a great big submarine.

CRAWFORD: How did people know that that submarine was the same submarine as what they had seen before?

BETHUNE: No, they didn’t. it was just a fish seen there on a regular basis. Every fishing trip virtually. And it was a rock that was fished very heavily, you know?

CRAWFORD: Fishing within proximity ... are we talking like within a kilometre of that spot? 

BETHUNE: No, it was the only rock you could fish.

CRAWFORD: Ok, I see. And when people went there, it was common for them to see a large White Pointer. What seasons would people be fishing off that rock? 

BETHUNE: From Labour Weekend. It was generally round about when the first Groper was caught - on through to April. 

CRAWFORD: So, October to April, maybe seven months. In those months, would it be the case that a White Pointer - or maybe that specific White Pointer - was there throughout how much of that seven months? 

BETHUNE: Well, I say most of the fishermen in those days came from Kaitangata, you know? And it went around the mine like wildfire, and it wasn’t many weeks went past that there wasn’t someone down there fishing - sea condition being favourable - that it wasn’t seen. 

CRAWFORD: Throughout the entire seven months though? 


CRAWFORD: If it was an individual White Pointer, that shark was there over a long period of time. Was it the case that there was a White Pointer there - possibly the same fish - over years? 

BETHUNE: I’m thinking so, because it was a big animal. 

CRAWFORD: I know but, would it come back next year? 

BETHUNE: Oh yeah, for sure. 

CRAWFORD: The trick here is that there’s a seasonality to the fishing - so if people don’t go there and fish, they don’t know if a White Pointer is there or not. 

BETHUNE: That’s right.

CRAWFORD: So, we don’t know if it buggered off in the winter or ...

BETHUNE: Well, that particular rock - which is known for its Groper fishery - and the Groper only come in shore like that in the summer months. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. So, if an individual White Pointer was there for Groper, and it happened to be that fishermen were also there for the Groper ... then you got three different things that are there at roughly the same time. I’m presuming that nobody fished there during the winter?

BETHUNE: Very rarely, if they did. It would only be for Blue Cod. But it wasn’t a good rock to catch Blue Cod on. Simple fact it was sand bottom for catching the Groper on. A wee bit of reef there to catch Blue Cod was only 20 feet out. 

CRAWFORD: Was there a kind of local name that people gave to that White Pointer? 


CRAWFORD: You’re reasonably certain that people would have seen a White Pointer, perhaps that same White Pointer from year to year. Was there a period of time when the White Pointer wasn’t there? 

BETHUNE: Don’t know, because as I say, it's not a popular place in the winter time. 

CRAWFORD: Do you remember when that fish didn’t show up anymore? How many years would people have seen it before it wasn't being seen there? Was it for a couple of years, five years maybe or ten years? 

BETHUNE: Oh, it’d be over a five-year period, I’d say roughly. 

CRAWFORD: And then for whatever reason, not there? Did you fish in that region after that period of time where the animal was seen by many people? 

BETHUNE: For a short period, yeah.

CRAWFORD: And never saw a White Pointer there after? 


CRAWFORD: Did you hear any more stories of other people seeing it either? Or were there any other places along the Catlins here, where people had the same kinds of observations of White Pointers repeatedly? 

BETHUNE: Tautuku. I remember stories of different people seeing them yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Any indication that there were certain animals that might have taken up residence there? 

BETHUNE: No, only size-wise. And once again, on that south side of Tautuku Peninsula, it was another popular Groper fishing spot. And the fish were cleaned on the rocks and the rock pool behind, and the heads and guts left on the rocks. So, every time you get a big sea, the heads will wash back into the sea.

CRAWFORD: And if there was a White Pointer kind of hanging around, waiting for a swell to bring out a Groper head, why not? Ok. That’s the second of your four White Pointer experiences. Were the third and fourth while you were commercial fishing? 


CRAWFORD: For the third incident, roughly what year was that? 

BETHUNE: Early 80’s.

CRAWFORD: And roughly what time of year? 

BETHUNE: December, sometime.

CRAWFORD: Where were you? 

BETHUNE: Half a mile off the beach here.

CRAWFORD: Directly off Kaka Point here?


CRAWFORD: Roughly what depth of water? 

BETHUNE: Fifteen fathoms.

CRAWFORD: What happened? 

BETHUNE: Just when commercial setnetting started there. We were catching Rig fish, and there was something wrecking the nets on a regular basis. We didn’t know how big it was, what sort of fish it was. So, this day we were all out, and one of the boats come up on the beach along-side me. But he got this White Pointer in his net this one day when he went to lift his net, rope over the net. And he abandoned it, but it was a big fish. Abandoned it, and he left the net behind. I went back the next day, and there was only the floats and the leadline left sort of thing. It had wrecked the net. 

CRAWFORD: Was the shark still alive, when he first got to it? 


CRAWFORD: So, it was tangled in his net - but still alive? 

BETHUNE: Yeah. So anyhow, he abandoned it, and he went back the next day and picked up the remnants. At that stage I hadn’t seen it. About two or three days later, another boat was setnetting in the same spot but he got a heap of Rig, and he was cleaning them out here back to the Nuggets to do his Crayfish pots. This White Pointer picked him up and started following him out to the Nuggets, and when he stopped and done his first pot for the day, with all the blood and guts on the deck, soon as he stopped, it all went out through the scuppers in gunwales. and this fish actually attacked the bloody scuppers. 

CRAWFORD: Where the blood and guts were coming off the deck?

BETHUNE: Yeah, it attacked the scuppers.

CRAWFORD: By 'attack' do you mean ...

BETHUNE: It started chomping at the scuppers. The young crew member that was on the boat, he climbed up on top of the wheelhouse. That’s how bloody terrified he was. 

CRAWFORD: When the boat was headed down to the Nuggets, it was cleaning the Rigs as it was going? 


CRAWFORD: So, there was basically a burley trail behind it?

BETHUNE: Oh yeah, for sure. 

CRAWFORD: Did they reckon that the fish followed them down to the Nuggets - and when they were on station, ready to deploy their pots, that’s when the animal started interacting with their boat? If the animal was going after the scuppers, and he’s biting down on the vessel - that’s a Level 4 encounter. That’s a story, did you see it? 

BETHUNE: I didn’t see it no, but it was a boat along-side me.

CRAWFORD: What happened in your third encounter? 

BETHUNE: Round about the same time, I was cleaning Rig. I had done me Crayfish pots at the Nuggets, and steamed across to Wangaloa which is about a 12-mile steam. And I was cleaning a Rig, so I got across ... halfway across the bay, I suppose. Thought nothing of it. Bloody got across there, and I decide to put a couple danlines down before I done me Crayfish pots.

CRAWFORD: Danline for Groper? 

BETHUNE: Yeah. So now I’ve done a few Crayfish pots, and then went to find the danline. And it was gone. "Oh yeah, that’s interesting." It had a big 12-gallon float on it, so it took a bit of pulling under. "Oh well, I guess I write that off." Carried on, bloody doing our Crayfish pots. Shifted to the next little reef, and [Jack Klassen] as it turned out was same crew that was on the boat out at the Nuggets - he had changed boats, and he was working for me. He said, "Have a look at this coming!" At this time, he was on top of the wheelhouse, and this big bastard, bloody appeared on the scene, and he just sort of started circling the boat. And I tried to ram him a couple or three times, but it just kept moving ahead. It moved on eventually. Well that same day, believe it or not, I don’t know if he followed us from here or what ... I got a big Sevengiller that day on the danline, and when I cleaned it, believe it or not - I was only boat on the ocean that day - it was full of bloody Rig tails and heads. So, it had followed us across the bay. 

CRAWFORD: That was a Sevengiller? 


CRAWFORD: But the fish you saw out there was a White Pointer? 


CRAWFORD: When it comes to identifying a fish, in or at the surface of the water ... non-fishermen, surfers or swimmers - they might see a fish and all they know is it’s a shark. 

BETHUNE: Oh yeah, for sure. 

CRAWFORD: When you see a shark out there, whether it’s a Sevengiller or a White Pointer or something else, how do you tell? People that haven’t spent a lot of time on the water, there have been suggestions that some people who are new to the water, for example they might see a Basking Shark and think it’s a White Pointer. 

BETHUNE: That’s right. 

CRAWFORD: Have you seen Basking Sharks out here? 


CRAWFORD: Was it an individual fish, or a group of them? 

BETHUNE: The one. 

CRAWFORD: Given that you’ve seen both Basking Sharks and White Pointers, what strikes you as being the most important differences between them? 

BETHUNE: Basking Sharks have got the huge gills on them.   

CRAWFORD: Anything else in terms of coloration, shape, or anything? 

BETHUNE: Oh, I never bothered getting close to it. Just seen the fin and that fin was too big for a bloody White Pointer. 

CRAWFORD: When you see a White Pointer, what are the distinguishing features that strike you?

BETHUNE: The white belly. 

CRAWFORD: Yeah. Now that Sevengiller though, it was also taking fish? You had cut it open, and there it was - full of the Rig heads? 

BETHUNE: Yeah. And the fins, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: How big do you reckon that Sevengiller was? 

BETHUNE: Eight feet. Actually, I catch a lot of them. Occasionally in fishing competition. I got two last Saturday, actually. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. That third encounter, what year was that? 

BETHUNE: Just after I had me own boat, which was ’72, '73, '74. 

CRAWFORD: Mid-70’s, something like that? 


CRAWFORD: Time of year? 

BETHUNE: Still getting Crayfish pots, so it would have been November-December. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. Fourth encounter - when was that? 

BETHUNE: Once again it was caught in a setnet over at Wangaloa here. 


BETHUNE: Round about the 80’s.

CRAWFORD: And time of year for that one? 

BETHUNE: Round about the same time - Oh, no. Hang on. It would be later than that, because I actually cut it up for Crayfish bait. So, March/April. 

CRAWFORD: Out in the bay here? 


CRAWFORD: Setnetting? 

BETHUNE: I wasn’t. This other boat was, but caught it in the setnet and he actually towed in onto the beach here at Karoro Creek

CRAWFORD: You saw him towing it in? 

BETHUNE: Yep. He towed it past us when we were trawling, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: The animal was dead when he found it in the net?

BETHUNE: No. It was too alive to do anything but, so he just towed it. 

CRAWFORD: And basically, suffocated it?

BETHUNE: And beached it down here.

CRAWFORD: When it came to the beach, people took pictures, negotiated for teeth? 

BETHUNE: Oh yeah, for sure. 

CRAWFORD: Did anybody cut the animal’s stomach open? 

BETHUNE: I did. 

CRAWFORD: And what was inside that animal’s stomach? 

BETHUNE: I can’t recall to be quite honest. There couldn’t have been much, otherwise I would remember it. 

CRAWFORD: Roughly how long was that animal?

BETHUNE: Sixteen-odd feet.

CRAWFORD: And this was in your Fall? 

BETHUNE: Late Autumn. Because I actually cut it up, and froze it for Crayfish bait for the coming season. 

CRAWFORD: And that would be a Level 1, because the animal was dead or being killed. 


Copyright © 2017 Barry Bethune and Steve Crawford