Ben Yates

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YOB: 1974
Experience: Kayaking Guide
Regions: Canterbury, Marlborough, Fiordland, Tasman
Interview Location: Milford Sound, NZ
Interview Date: 06 February 2016
Post Date: 01 December 2017; Copyright © 2017 Ben Yates and Steve Crawford

4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE

CRAWFORD: Have you personally seen any White Pointers in the wild?

YATES: I think I've seen one here in Milford, and I was on a vessel that saw one down at Stewart Island.

CRAWFORD: Ok. Tell me about Stewart Island first, please.

YATES: I’ve got friends that live in Bluff, and they frequent Stewart Island. 

CRAWFORD: They frequent it socially, or they’re working there?

YATES: Frequent it socially. And they have their own boat, and go there frequently. They had their wedding there, which was when I was there. I was in Halfmoon Bay in a little inflatable, as in a little inflatable single-person raft with my five-year-old boy, paddling through Halfmoon Bay - where the last buoys are. That’s when he asked me about sharks, and I said "No actually we get them here, some of the biggest White Sharks that we get on the planet, and they live around here. This is a great area for them." And the next day, when we were leaving after the wedding, as we were getting to that spot I turned around to say "Hey, this is how far out we paddled." And that was when the Skipper goes "Ladies and Gentlemen, on your right-hand side, there’s a 4.5 metre Great White Shark."

CRAWFORD: That was in Halfmoon Bay? 

YATES: That’s correct.

CRAWFORD: Do you remember what year that was?

YATES: Yeah, I certainly do. He was five years old. He’s now eight.

CRAWFORD: So, three years ago, 2013. A 4.5 metre White Pointer in Halfmoon Bay?

BATES: Yes.

CRAWFORD: How far past the last buoys?

YATES: We were by the last ... where the last boats were moored. He was only a five-year-old boy. I didn’t want to go too far, like in a whitewater kayak.

CRAWFORD: So, you were not very far out into the bay itself then?

YATES: And we weren’t that far off the swimming beach, either. 

CRAWFORD: Did you get to see that animal?

YATES: No, I didn’t. Because I was standing there in the middle of the crowd, and as everyone went "Oh my gosh!" After working in Milford for a long time, you don’t want to be that pushy person with a camera. 

CRAWFORD: Yes. 

YATES: And there were certainly a lot of people pushing for the handrail, and to push their camera through, and what have you. 

CRAWFORD: Was this on the Foveaux Express? The mainstream ferry service?

YATES: Yes. When I got to look for it, I looked down into the clear water. I was like "I think I can see it." As in, the last of it - cruising along. But I know enough about guiding, and going fact-fiction, etc to go "I can’t count that as a guarantee of what it is I saw." I’ve watched Dolphins disappear to nothing, and you’re like "I think I can still see them." But you’re not sure. And the same when they resurface. I've spent hours up the mast, watching animals and Dolphins like that. 

CRAWFORD: Right. Tell me about the White Pointer you think you saw here in Fiordland, please.

YATES: I believe it was a White Pointer that I saw from an airplane flying in. We would fly with a friend up the coast, and drop off the gas bottles for the guided walker's huts, and fly back in pretty low. We flew over Seal Rock which is sort of positioned toward the mouth, or the far end of the fiord. A popular place for tourists to stop. And the size of the big Seal that sits on the top was about a metre and half - he was quite a monstrous thing. And off the rock about 20 odd metres, looked pretty clearly like a shark. What stuck out was the size of his fins out to side. And I do remember from the Blue Shark, swimming around me, his fins just looked very fine. But the shark at Seal Rock - these fins were big, old triangles. 

CRAWFORD: Do you have any sense of your altitude in the plane at the time? Roughly? I mean if you could see the Seal ...

YATES: Yeah. Normally, you have to fly at a certain height. But it was overcast - there was virtually no other flight traffic in here at all.  I mean, it was not a tourist day. There weren't commercial flights going in and out. So, we would have been cruising in under the inversion. No more than 300 feet, for sure. 

CRAWFORD: This was a fixed-wing aircraft?

YATES: That’s correct. 

CRAWFORD: So, you were still doing a decent clip?

YATES: That's right. 

CRAWFORD: And you probably saw the whole thing in a brief period of time?

YATES: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Do you remember when this was? What year, roughly?

YATES: Would be probably about 2003. 

CRAWFORD: Do you remember what time of year?

YATES: If I was changing the gas bottles, it would have been near the end of the season, round about March or April. 

CRAWFORD: Tell me about Seal rock - roughly how big is this rock?

YATES: Probably roundabout 8-10 metres square, and angled quite steeply.

CRAWFORD: Typically, how many Seals at any given time would be on that rock?

YATES: On the rock itself, there would often be up to 10-15 Seals. It’s one of the few places on the fiord where Seals can actually get out of the water. Both sides of the fiord, for the majority of the time there is nowhere for a Seal to lie down. So, this is one broken rock section where you could get up to 30-40 Seals out of the water. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. But this is a haul-out, not an established Seal colony? Seal Rock is not an active pupping site?

YATES: No, definitely not a pupping site. The males are generally kicked out of other colonies by larger males. They are immature males, and they are coming to some of these other places where there’s a lot less pressure. Generally, very few females, and they just live a bit of bachelor life for a while. Build a bit of size, you know. Historically very good fishing for them in the fiords.

Copyright © 2017 Ben Yates and Steve Crawford