Experience: Marine Ecologist, Fishery Scientist, Diver
Regions: Otago, Marlborough Sound, Catlins, Fiordland, Foveaux Strait, Stewart Island
Interview Location: Dunedin, NZ
Interview Date: 29 January 2016
Post Date: 16 Sep 2017; Copyright © 2017 Bob Street and Steve Crawford
1. EXPERIENCE IN AOTEAROA/NZ COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS
CRAWFORD: Bob, when were you born and where?
STREET: On the 25th of March, 1930 in Wellington. Spent most of my youth up to my 21st brought up in the Hutt Valley, and then I went up to Victoria University for a few years and did a Bachelor's degree.
CRAWFORD: As a young kid, did you spend a lot amount of time on or around the water?
STREET: Not particularly, no.
CRAWFORD: When you started to go to university, what program or subjects, were you involved in?
STREET: It was biological sciences - zoology and botany.
CRAWFORD: Roughly when was that? How old were you?
STREET: Well, I didn’t go straight to university from school, I worked in the forestry for a while, and in the freezer works, and building up a bit of cash, so I’d be able to complete the degree. I finished at Victoria when I was 23.
CRAWFORD: What did you do after you got your BSc degree in biology?
STREET: I worked for about 18 months as the fisheries inspector in the northern part of the South Island. It was a fill-in job until a position came up in Dunedin doing fisheries management and research work in southern New Zealand - Otago and Southland.
CRAWFORD: For the 18 months that you were a fisheries inspector, was that working for a Crown agency, what would become of Ministry of Primary Industries?
STREET: No. Those days, it was the Marine Department.
CRAWFORD: Up north, was that working in the Cook Strait region, or was it further offshore?
CRAWFORD: And was that fill-in job throughout the year or seasonal?
STREET: Throughout the year, yes.
CRAWFORD: What types of fisheries were you inspecting?
STREET: The main fisheries at that time were trawling for finfish mainly Snapper, and potting for Rock Lobster. And in those days, actually there was a whaling station at the entrance to Tory Channel fronting Cook Strait.
CRAWFORD: Yes, I’ve heard about that facility. After the 18 months, you relocated to Dunedin? And the new job - was it still with the Marine Department?
STREET: Still with the Marine Department, that’s correct.
CRAWFORD: What were your responsibilities when you took the job here in Dunedin?
STREET: It was covering all fisheries really. Trawl fisheries, Rock Lobster, Oyster fisheries. [laughs] Scratching the surface is what I’m saying, because that’s quite a massive job.
CRAWFORD: At the age of about 25 years, in this new job, were you involved in the management side of things? Or as a biologist, were you out in the field most of the time?
STREET: Yes, I was out in the field most of the time. But most of the reports went to Wellington, and in those days there was the fisheries research department that was based in Wellington. There was a fisheries management division in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. They had fisheries biologist who were looking at the respective fisheries in the areas, and of course all of the reports went to Wellington.
CRAWFORD: How long did you work in that capacity? Out of Dunedin?
STREET: Well, the Marine Department was broken up about 1970, so then it became the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
CRAWFORD: Did your job description change when the Ministry got reorganized?
STREET: Not really. But I left the Ministry in 1986 when I was 56, because the job became less fieldwork-orientated, which didn’t suit me so much. I did work for several aspects of the industry, Rock Lobster, Pāua, Flatfish and Oysters.
CRAWFORD: As a private consultant?
CRAWFORD: For the period that you were working for the various Ministries, when you were based out of Dunedin, when you were in the field - what types of things were you doing?
STREET: I was finding out basic information, like migration patterns of some fish species, be it the growth rate, the density, the effects of fishing on the stocks. Basic information that was necessary for fisheries management. Also, I concentrated very heavily on direct underwater observation, and I did a lot of diving. All the way from Fiordland, Foveaux Strait in particular - there on the Oyster population and Rock Lobster populations in Otago and Fiordland. A lot of tagging work was done. There wasn’t much done about migration patterns and growth rates in those days, which are two essential things to know.
CRAWFORD: In terms of the time you spent on the water, would it have been a mix - some of the time with the fleet on their boats, and some of the time on research vessels or non-fishing vessels, so that you could go other places to collect other types of data?
STREET: Pretty well entirely on commercial fishing boats.
CRAWFORD: I'm guessing you had a very good, extensive relationship through a very broad network of commercial fishermen, back in the day?
STREET: Exactly, yes.
CRAWFORD: That’s important because it's not just what you knew from the work you were doing. But you also spoke with the other fellows and heard what they knew - they would naturally share with you, and it would go back and forth.
STREET: The commercial fishermen obviously were very, very interested in what was turning up from their fishery. But what was actually on the bottom, in terms of the population density, the type of sea bottom, and a lot of this, was complemented with showing them underwater still shots or video recordings.
CRAWFORD: When you were out on the water, and you were working on commercial fishing boats, was there a seasonality to the time you were out there? Or was it through all seasons?
STREET: Basically, through all seasons. It just depended what was on the go.
CRAWFORD: Roughly how many days a month would you have been out on the water, as opposed to in the office?
STREET: I don’t know I can put a figure on that.
CRAWFORD: Would it be maybe 15 days per month, half of your time spent out on the water?
STREET: No, it wouldn’t have been that much, because the weather was often a determining factor.
CRAWFORD: So, when you take weather into account, maybe one week per month?
STREET: Yeah, I suppose about a quarter of the time.
CRAWFORD: But still a substantial amount of time, and over a very long period of time. Because you came down in 1955, and you worked in that job until 1986. That’s about 30 years.
STREET: Yes. Since I left the Department, I’ve been doing equally as much fieldwork.
CRAWFORD: Did you work around the coast of Stewart island? Like the Southwest Cape?
STREET: Yes, I’ve been there. Not so extensively at Stewart Island timewise, as it would have been in Fiordland. Basically, most of the time in Otago, including the Catlins.
CRAWFORD: Come 1986, you leave the Department and start working as a private consultant, still on fisheries science. Who were your major clients?
STREET: The Bluff Oyster industry, and the Rock Lobster industry in Otago. They were the two major ones.
CRAWFORD: At the age of 85, are you still spending time out in the field?
CRAWFORD: For the Rock Lobster fishery, where do they do most of their harvesting?
STREET: Both north and south Otago.
CRAWFORD: And is the Bluff Oyster industry mostly based in the Foveaux Strait?
STREET: Yes. I have done work for the Pāua industry too. I’m still doing work on Pāua, just probably not necessarily involved in the industry as such. But they are interested in the work I’m doing. I’m able to keep my cost down a lot on these projects. I do a lot of work with no financial return. But it's ok, it's my hobby. It always has been. I do eat a lot of seafood, because my work does involve me gathering a bit of seafood.
CRAWFORD: if I could be so bold as to correct you, I think this is much more than a hobby. It sounds like a passion to me.
STREET: Oh, very much so. That might be better, you know.
CRAWFORD: From the time you became a private consultant, if you were spending time on or under the water, what regions would you have focussed on?
STREET: At the moment, it is a Pāua re-seeding project in the Catlins area in South Otago. A major project is Oyster re-seeding in Foveaux Strait. Also monitoring the Rock Lobster fishery on the southeast coast.
CRAWFORD: You mentioned before about doing quite a bit of diving. When did you start seriously diving - with any significant amount of time? Roughly, how old were you?
STREET: I didn’t start that early. I was in my late 20s, about 27.
CRAWFORD: And at that time scuba was reasonably new technology that you picked up?
CRAWFORD: When you went scuba diving, where would you go?
STREET: Right through the whole southern area of New Zealand. I’ve done very little diving in the North Island.
CRAWFORD: So, it was mostly in South Island, but very broad geographically - wherever you were working?
STREET: Where I was working. Yeah.
CRAWFORD: On top of the work that you did in association with commercial fisheries, and the scuba diving work that you were involved in - did you spend any significant amount of time on or around the water for recreational time? Like fishing or boating or anything like that?
STREET: A little bit, but not that much. It was a time factor, really. I never had time. I had done a bit of spearfishing in my younger days. My activities were always more orientated towards commercial activities.
CRAWFORD: You were either focussed on the harvesting, or you needed samples, or something like that?
STREET: Yes, and also communicating with the fishermen. They were always curious - particularly with Rock Lobsters and Oysters. What the situation was actually on the bottom - in relation to what they were catching.
2. EXPOSURE TO MĀORI/LOCAL/SCIENCE KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS
CRAWFORD: In terms of where you received your knowledge of the marine ecosystem, science obviously, but local and Indigenous knowledge. How much has Māori culture and knowledge contributed to your knowledge?
STREET: Well, a lot of the fishermen that I worked with had Māori ancestry.
CRAWFORD: Where would you put Māori knowledge on a scale of contributing to your knowledge of the marine ecosystem?
STREET: Medium, say.
CRAWFORD: And in terms of science contribution?
STREET: Put that at number 1.
CRAWFORD: Very high?
STREET: Yes. But you know, working with both.
CRAWFORD: And of course, you have worked a lot with the Local knowledge holders and harvesters during your long career?
STREET: Yes, that would be very high as well.
3. WHITE POINTER DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE
CRAWFORD: What was the first time in your life that you remember either hearing about, or seeing, a White Pointer?
STREET: Oh, the first time in my life I heard about White Pointers would have been in Marlborough, because they used to come into the whaling base when they were hauling in the whales. The whaling base that’s at the entrance to the Tory Channel in Cook Strait. The White Pointers used to follow the whale carcasses, and sometimes they’d ... I never saw any of them there, but the whalers used to say the White Pointers used to come in and take chunks of blubber out of the whales' carcasses floating in the water.
CRAWFORD: The whalers used to say that the White Pointers would actually follow their boats with the whale carcasses into the whaling station?
STREET: More at times when they were actually hauling the whales up the slipway for flensing - removing blubber. There would sometimes be White Pointers there. Sometimes lots of them.
CRAWFORD: Was there any indication that you remember from the old-timers, the whalers, that the White Pointers would follow their vessels?
STREET: I can’t remember them specifically saying that, but they may have while the whales were being towed.
CRAWFORD: Ok. But you say they would definitely aggregate around the slipway associated with the whaling station. I'm guessing that would have been because there was the carcass of the whale and a lot of blood. Ok, that was the first time you heard about White Pointers. Would you have heard that from the whalers themselves, or people who knew the whalers?
STREET: No, I heard that directly from whalers.
CRAWFORD: Did they say anything else that you recall about the White Pointers? In terms of their behaviour, or anything about the ecology of the White Pointers?
STREET: No, I can’t recall any comments other than the fact that they used to bite into the carcasses. Just pried and pulled their bites out.
CRAWFORD: Did you get the sense from the whalers that there was some degree of local residency of these White Pointers? That they would maybe hang around the whaling stations?
STREET: No, I can’t recall any specific comments on that.
CRAWFORD: Were you a young man when you were talking to these whalers?
STREET: I was a middle-aged man.
CRAWFORD: And that would have been the first time that the White Pointers actually showed up on your radar screen?
STREET: Yes, yes, yes.
CRAWFORD: When you were going through school, your undergraduate bachelor of science degree, did White Pointers ever come up? In terms of what people thought about their population ecology?
CRAWFORD: Really? They didn’t show up at all?
STREET: No. That was unmentioned.
CRAWFORD: In all of the time that you spent as a fishery inspector, in the Cook Strait region, did you ever see or hear about White Pointers there? Other than the whalers?
STREET: No, not other than what the whalers said. Yes, I used to go to sea - and bearing in mind that I was the inspector in those days, and had a wide variety of jobs to do. But no. The only comment heard about White Pointers was that from the whalers.
CRAWFORD: Was the type of following behavior you described before, was that something that you saw yourself, or you heard about it from people that were fishing on the islands?
STREET: I heard about that from fishermen. That would be a logical reason. There wouldn't be other reasons for White Pointers hanging around anchorages. It's not a feeding ground for them normally, unless there was offal and heads, etcetera being put over.
CRAWFORD: Through your extensive discussions with commercial fishermen throughout the rest of New Zealand, for instance over at Fiordland or the Foveaux Strait, were there other similar examples where fishermen told you about White Pointers that were either attracted to their boat when they were cleaning - or followed their boat when they were cleaning?
STREET: Only in one instance. At Halfmoon Bay at Stewart Island. In the early days, you know there were a few White Pointers there that were hanging around. And one fisherman there caught a few in the setnets. Whether they were put down there deliberately or not, I don’t know. But it would have resulted, in my opinion, from just following the boats.
CRAWFORD: When you say 'back in the day,' roughly when was that?
STREET: This would have happened about 40 years ago.
CRAWFORD: The nets that you are referring to, were those Joe Cave's shark nets?
STREET: I think it was Joe Cave, yeah. Obviously, you’ve heard of that.
CRAWFORD: That’s part of the beauty of this approach - when you hear the same stories from different sources. Sometimes you get different perspectives, but it lays out the importance of what was going on. At Halfmoon Bay, do you remember where the fisherman were cleaning their fish?
STREET: No, I don’t know that. They would have been cleaning them up on the way in. That would have been putting out the burley trail.
CRAWFORD: Getting back to the Otago Peninsula specifically, do you ever remember fish processing plants dumping their waste around Otago Peninsula.
STREET: Yeah, just off the south of Taiaroa Head, at the entrance to Otago Harbour.
CRAWFORD: And where was that fish waste coming from at the time?
STREET: Just from the fish factories in general.
CRAWFORD: Dunedin? Otakou?
STREET: Just from Dunedin as far as I knew. That was back in the day. I think nowadays that’s all used for fertilizer.
CRAWFORD: The dumping did end, but do you know when?
STREET: No, I don’t. I mean, that was often blamed for the presence of White Pointers around the area, but that's not the sort of stuff that they would go after. Certainly, smaller shark species would. But I wouldn’t go along with that attracting White Pointers. It's right close in shore. I suppose that’s a large-scale burley trail. It's not going on now anyway. It's an academic point.
CRAWFORD: Back in the day, were there other major freezer works in the Otago region?
STREET: Not really, no. There haven't been any great discharges like that. Of course, the sewage would have gone out, but I don’t know if that would have been attracting White Pointers or not. But if the Otago Peninsula is a hot spot, it’s because of the Seal colonies.
CRAWFORD: You’re one of the people who has spent more time in this region than anybody else that I’ve interviewed. In your 85 years now, of which you’ve spent 60 years here based out of the Otago Peninsula working in a variety of places, would it be fair to say that throughout that period of time, commercial fishermen would have always referred to the Otago Peninsula as being ‘sharky’ with regards to White Pointers? Is it a hot spot?
STREET: Not necessarily. If you have a fisherman who is fishing for Groper, and he has danline down, and they're wriggling on that line, they could bring in sharks. Going back to 1965, we were doing some diving on Rock Lobster grounds, it was in quite deep water, 26 fathoms, south-east of Taieri Mouth. We assessed the Rock Lobster on the bottom, and also noted Groper to be abundant. About a week later, a boat came into the Carey's Bay landing, and the fisherman beckoned me over and said "They tell me you’ve been doing some diving down on this lobster patch?" I said "Yeah." They said, "Come and have a look at this." And they had a good load of Groper there, but they also had about 20 Groper heads only, and they’d been ripped clean off, just after the gills, and it would only be a very large shark like a White Pointer capable of doing that.
CRAWFORD: What about a Mako or a Porbeagle?
STREET: Yes, they could. But they would not be as common as a White Pointer. Now that you say that, that is a possibility. I’ve been circled by a Porbeagle once, I got him on video too, but he certainly never attacked although they could take an arm or a leg off, I suppose.
CRAWFORD: Yes, but in that case, when the fisherman came up and showed you the heads, did they say that they saw the shark that did it?
STREET: No, no. It would have been a substantial shark, though.
CRAWFORD: Was is likely in their opinion, perhaps your opinion, to be a White Pointer?
STREET: They seemed to think so. I’ll tell you what, White Pointers do tend to frequent Groper grounds sometimes.
CRAWFORD: Well that’s important. There are some people who say that Otago Peninsula is 'sharky' with regards to the White Pointers, and some people who say maybe just seasonally.
STREET: Yeah. Look, you just jogged my memory here. At Cape Saunders, it was just at the head of Otago Peninsula, not me but several divers in the old days that I’ve known, have had very close encounters with White Pointers. But it would be ‘sharky’ in the sense that there are Seal colonies on the Otago Peninsula.
CRAWFORD: Do you reckon that White Pointers are going to aggregate at places where Seals, major Seal colonies exist?
STREET: Yes. Particularly at the time of year when the pups are first heading for the water. You jogged my memory again. At Nugget Point, many years ago, DOC had an observer there, during that time of the year, particularly when there were a lot of pups there, and there were two occasions where one of the observers saw pups take to the water, a fin and then a pool of blood. So, they would be White Pointers. This has been very well documented in South Africa - False Island I think they call it. You’ve probably seen it on television.
CRAWFORD: Very well documented, in the sense of White Pointers and Seal colonies - especially during pupping season?
STREET: Exactly, yeah. So I think that’s the reason for them saying that Otago Peninsula is ‘sharky,’ as you said.
CRAWFORD: The changes in the Seal abundance around the Otago Peninsula over the past 40 or 50 years while you’ve been here. What have you noticed in terms of the abundance of Seals?
STREET: I haven’t been doing any specific counts at all. But a lot of the fishermen say that they are increasing in numbers, and of course the argument that they are cleaning all the fish out. I actually dealt with a lot of Fur Seal gut analysis in the early days when I worked for the Marine Department, and I put out a paper on their diet. I had to shoot them, when they were coming out of the water. I had a licence, of course.
CRAWFORD: That’s important, because we’ve talked about White Pointers eating Seals, and feeding on Gropers on the line. On Chatham Island, the story about White Pointers feeding off fish that had been cleaned around there, or perhaps following the burley trail. You also talked about the White Pointers back in the whalers' day, feeding on the whale carcasses. So, these animals, definitely feed on a wide variety of things. In all of the years that you worked as a fisheries observer or scientist, did you ever hear about anybody who actually had White Pointers, and opened them up and had a look to see what they were feeding on?
STREET: Yes, a fisherman once who roped one up and it had Seal remains inside it.
CRAWFORD: Was that locally here in Port Chalmers?
CRAWFORD: And that was roughly when?
STREET: About 40 years ago. But here, he caught that old White Pointer accidentally in his fishing net.
CRAWFORD: I understand that through the post-protection provisions in the Wildlife Protection Act there were going to be some White Pointers that were incidentally caught in setnets or longlines or other gear. The important thing is that the incidental catch has to be reported and that DOC has to be advised. Regarding the Otago Peninsula, you had mentioned about the White Pointers responding to offal associated with the commercial fishery after cleaning. Have you ever heard about associations between White Pointers and freezer works or municipal discharges? Sewage?
STREET: I think a lot of that material going out would be a lot of blood and fairly small bits.
CRAWFORD: You haven’t heard anything about association between White Pointers and freezer works?
STREET: No, no.
CRAWFORD: Or White Pointers and municipal discharge or anything like that?
STREET: No, I haven’t heard of that.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear back in the day, about a White Pointer here at Otago Peninsula called KZ-7?
STREET: Yes, I have heard about that one.
CRAWFORD: What did you hear about it?
STREET: Just the fact that it was a whopper. Something on the order of 20 feet or so. And that’s about all, really.
CRAWFORD: Was that animal around for an extended period of time?
STREET: No, I can’t comment on that. I had heard fishermen saying there’s some monstrous White Pointer which they call KZ-7.
CRAWFORD: What region did you hear that KZ-7 was around?
STREET: Let's think. Mainly off the north Otago coast, past the northern part of the peninsula too. Might have been just off Taiaroa Heads there.
CRAWFORD: Ok. With regards to Otago Harbour, you made reference to a fisherman who got a White Pointer wrapped up in his setnet in the harbour. Did you ever hear anything else about White Pointers in the harbour?
STREET: Yes. Several years prior to that, about 50 years ago, there was a White caught on a line off of Deborah Bay.
CRAWFORD: By a line, what do you mean?
STREET: Well, the fisherman knew there’s a shark around, and he put a heavy line with a big hook, and he baited it deliberately to catch it.
CRAWFORD: With a barrel as a float?
STREET: A barrel and a float. It was about a 12 to 14 footer.
CRAWFORD: Anything else with regards to White Pointers in the upper harbour or anything like that?
STREET: There was another one, one or two caught in a setnet at the Mole near the entrance to Otago Harbour. I’ll tell you what though, I can’t do it at the moment, it will take me a lot to do, but over the next week or two I could go through my records. Actually, I’ve got some old photos I can dig up too, and let you have them.
CRAWFORD: Sure, to the extent it is convenient for you.
STREET: A lot of the stuff I want to file, you know? I’ve just accumulated over the years. I’ve got a lot of stuff, actually.
CRAWFORD: Fiordland. For all the time you spent on commercial fishing boats or talking to commercial fishermen, did you ever hear about White Pointers over there?
STREET: Yes. At the entrance, I have heard about them.
CRAWFORD: Any indication perhaps why the animals were there?
STREET: Not really, no. They just saw them while they were diving.
CRAWFORD: Any seasonality to it that you recall?
STREET: No, no. Again, I don’t know what to put this down to. Seal colonies, that’s bouncing around and so, looking for Seals. I think that’s the key point.
CRAWFORD: With regards to further south, did you ever hear about White Pointers along the southern coastline of the South Island or Foveaux Strait or around Stewart island?
STREET: That western Foveaux Strait area, Centre Island, Escape Reefs, and there are little rocks that come out of the water off Invercargill Heads - Halfway Rocks, I think they call them. Now Groper fishermen in all these three years that were mentioned, they told me that they had seen them there, and had lost Gropers, just come up with their heads. They are White Pointer areas. I think White Pointers often tend to hang around areas frequented by habitat for Groper. Probably they do predate on them, being a large fish.
CRAWFORD: You think that it is quite possible that where the Gropers aggregate, that would attract the White Pointers?
STREET: Yes, that’s another area too.
CRAWFORD: Give me a sense of the average size of these Gropers.
STREET: Oh, they would be about a meter long.
CRAWFORD: One of the things that has come up consistently in the interviews is that when they pull up the line and there’s just a head. So, there’s a Groper that’s taken a baited hook, and there’s a White Pointer or at least a large shark, that came up and took the body, didn’t take the head. It only snapped the body off from behind the gills. Under normal circumstances, does that not seem unusual in terms of shark behaviour? That it wouldn’t actually try and take the whole Groper?
STREET: That’s right. When I talk about the White Pointers following the boat that’s tossing out the Groper heads, there’s an anomaly there. But it could well be that they felt it on the line. Why would he snap it off, that might be the most efficient, you might say.
CRAWFORD: It's possible, I don’t know. You’ve identified certain areas in Foveaux Strait, and the southern shore of the South Island, Escape Reefs, Halfway Rock, that type of region ...
STREET: Centre Island.
CRAWFORD: Centre island. And the one thing that you offered straight off was the possibility that if these are Groper aggregations, or areas where the Groper fishery is targeting, that that could be one of the attracting features for the White Pointers?
CRAWFORD: Anyplace else along the southern coast of South Island or Foveaux Strait that you’ve heard are areas of White Pointer aggregations - throughout your 50 years of experience?
STREET: You probably already know this, but you also get White Pointers in the Subantarctic Islands. Like at Campbell Island, there’s a meteorological station there, and one of the guys was diving, once again it would have been off a Seal colony. He lost his arm. Did you hear about that?
CRAWFORD: Yes, I did. Several times. And one thing that comes up when people share that story - it surprised the hell out of everybody that the White Pointers were that far south. I mean this was a substantial animal, and it was a very severe incident. But it shocked everybody.
STREET: Yes, certainly.
CRAWFORD: It gets back to that idea that perhaps we don’t know nearly as much about these animals as we need to. Because if we have those kinds of surprises happening still ...
STREET: White Pointer sharks have got something about their blood system. I think that they've got warmer blood than a normal shark, and are able to withstand cold water temperatures better than other shark species.
CRAWFORD: If you take a look at their global geographic distribution, I think that that is reflected adequately, because they’re found in relatively cold waters here, but you’ll also find them at other times up in the subtropical waters. With regards to your experience, and from commercial fishermen or other scientists, what do you know about the kind of migration patterns of White Pointers in general, and specifically around New Zealand?
STREET: I don’t know much at all, apart from the stuff that’s been shown on television where they’ve done tagging work on them.
CRAWFORD: What do you know about that New Zealand White Pointer tagging project?
STREET: Just the fact that they’re doing this at the Chathams and I think at Stewart island, too. Oh, that’s one thing here too. You’re talking about things that are coming back to me. I was talking to an Abalone diver, this was in Portland in Western Victoria, and one of his best Abalone spots was at Lady Julia Percy Island, that’s west of Victoria, and he’s had two encounters with White Pointers there. One took half of his fin off, but he still used to go back there because it's an excellent Abalone diving spot. That was in western Victoria and that whole southern Australian coastline is a bad place for sharks.
CRAWFORD: Getting back to Stewart island, the story from the days of White Pointers going into Halfmoon bay, and the setnets capturing those animals. Do you know any of the details of what happened with those setnets?
STREET: No, no. I’ll tell you what, do you know Joe Cave?
CRAWFORD: I interviewed him
STREET: Oh, that’s good.
CRAWFORD: I think the thing I’m mostly interested in, is from your 60 years of experience, even though it wasn’t so much around Stewart island, but you would have heard things as well. Back in the day did you hear that there were certain regions, certain areas around Stewart island where White Pointers aggregated?
CRAWFORD: The Ruggedies?
STREET: The Ruggedies, and all through there. It's got a bad reputation.
CRAWFORD: That was a reputation back in the day? Was always considered bad by people?
CRAWFORD: Doughboy, yeah.
STREET: And the White Pointers came up, feeding on them, when the water came in.
CRAWFORD: That links to one of the first stories that you shared with me, you talking to the whalers about the White Pointers being attracted to marine mammal carcasses, and beached whales.
CRAWFORD: In terms of shark-human interactions, other than the ones at St. Clair, St. Kilda, Aramoana, are you aware of any other types of attacks or near attacks in the entire region: Fiordland, Foveaux Strait, Stewart island, all the way up to Otago Peninsula and north of Otago? Are you aware of any other kind of severe White Pointer-human interactions?
STREET: Well, just on occasion divers north of Otago have been circled by a White Pointer, but no actual attack.
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] Why do you figure these animals, these apex predators, have some Level 4 encounters with humans, but for the most part, you don’t find them going that way. What’s your thinking on this?
STREET: You could say that some pit bull terriers will attack. But probably most won’t.
CRAWFORD: That underscores the importance of the nature of the individual animal, and the individual animal could have been abused, or trained, or maybe had something wrong mentally.
STREET: In the case of a White Pointer, it might depend how hungry the animal is. You often hear that they don’t like human flesh anyways. That a bite will be a tester.
CRAWFORD: But the number of attacks where a human body or body part is actually consumed, that's very small.
STREET: That’s the point, yeah. That’s exactly right.
CRAWFORD: One interviewee said, if these White Pointers wanted human flesh, there would be a lot of humans missing.
STREET: Boy, you take a surface mammal ...
CRAWFORD: Easy pickings.
STREET: Absolutely. Of course. [laughs] Almost petrified people when 'Jaws' came out.
CRAWFORD: We are still struggling with that movie. That was back in the mid-70s. And there are so many people who are still talking about it in 2015.
STREET: I’ll tell you an ex-diver you would like interviewing is Rodney Fox. You’ve never met him?
CRAWFORD: No, but he was famous back when I was a kid. One thing that’s come up is that people, when they have an encounter with a White Pointer, for the most part, it's fleeting, it happens for a very short period of time. There have been some accounts including the Halfmoon Bay incident, where White Pointers have been swimming around in groups of two or more. And there is some reason to suspect that this might be something that happens more commonly than most people think - that it might actually reflect some degree of social behaviour in these White Pointers. Based on your experience, have you ever heard of White Pointers swimming around in groups?
STREET: No, I’ve never heard of anything like that.
4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE
CRAWFORD: When you moved in 1955 to take the position here at Dunedin, you spent the next 30 years working in a region extending from Oamaru south to Foveaux Strait and west and up through Fiordland. During that 40 years, did you ever see any White Pointers in the wild throughout that region?
STREET: No, I have never seen any. I’m going to add here that my main experience of White Pointers - even though I didn’t see them - was at the Chatham Islands in 1966.
CRAWFORD: What were you doing out in the Chathams?
STREET: I was still based in Dunedin, but early in 1966 the Rock Lobster fishery started there. In the year of my experience there I was working on Rock Lobsters, and in particular the fact that I was a scuba diver. My assistant and I, we went out to the Chatham islands on a commercial fishing boat which - prior to 1966 - had been fishing for years on Groper and Blue Cod populations. We had two near encounters with White Pointers while we were diving there.
CRAWFORD: Was this scuba diving or free diving?
STREET: Scuba diving.
CRAWFORD: And it was as part of your job that you had gone out to the Chathams to work on Rock Lobsters?
STREET: That’s right.
CRAWFORD: Roughly how long were you there for?
STREET: Around about 3 weeks.
CRAWFORD: When you were diving, roughly what kind of environment were you in? Nearshore or offshore?
STREET: Nearshore to the island, yes, yes.
CRAWFORD: Do you remember roughly what time of year you were there?
STREET: it would have been mid-July, 1966.
CRAWFORD: Tell me what happened.
STREET: At the northern end of the main bay, at the Chatham Islands. Petre Bay, there’s an anchorage called Port Hutt. Now, there was a freezer boat that had been there for years prior to the Rock Lobster fishing started. It was just a freezer boat for the Cod and the Groper boats that burnt to the ground a few years prior to that, you know? But anyway, the skipper of the boat that I was on wanted the mooring chain back, and we were going to put a rope round the end of the mooring chain so you could bring it up, and then you’d have a permanent mooring. I was just about to dive down after spotting the mooring chain which was in about 50 foot of water, when ... [laughs] I didn't see it, but my mate gave me a nudge and said "Get out of the water quick." And he said there was about a 15-foot Great White passing just underneath us. I must have looked the other way. So, we got out. And an hour later, we went back and nervously put the rope around the end of the chain so they could have a mooring in. About a week later, at Pitt island, just to the south of the Chathams there, when we came in about 5 o’clock at night, one of the boats had a rope around the prop, and I put the gear on and took the rope off, and when I got up, one of the crew had a long pole with a bayonet on the end. And I said, "What’s the shot here?" And he said "Oh, there was a 15-foot White Pointer swimming around here this morning, you see?" Now, those areas were anchorages for fishing boats. And in the days when there was no Rock Lobster fishing, they were fishing for Groper and Blue Cod. And this would have applied particularly to Groper - the White Pointers would have gotten in the habit of following the boats into the anchorages while throwing out the Groper entrails and heads. And once they get into that habit, they would probably retain that habit for a while.
5. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - EXPERIENCES OF OTHERS
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear from anyone that had first-hand experience with White Pointers in Otago Harbour?
STREET: In Otago Harbour at Carey’s Bay is the fishing wharf area of Otago Harbour. This would be going back again about 30-odd years ago. There was a fisherman there who had a setnet down off the wharf for Moki. Honestly, he had a 16-foot White Pointer caught up in that, all wrapped up. I’m not saying that shark would have been following the boats in there, but it was caught there. Incidentally, as far as Otago Harbour is concerned, in 1968, this was the first shark fatality when these spearfisherman were fishing at the Mole, at the entrance to Otago Harbour. And Graham Hitt, he was killed by a Great White there. I knew really well the three people who were fishing with him, and they brought him in.
CRAWFORD: What do you recall of what they told you had happened?
STREET: They all saw the shark, and it attacked Graham.
CRAWFORD: Did it circle first, or was there any indication that the animal was interested ...
STREET: No, I can’t say on that one. Within the space of two or three years there were another two fatalities around St. Kilda beach.
CRAWFORD: Just before we leave the Aramoana incident - there was a group of spearfishermen who were spear fishing at the time? And of the three that were not hit, you don’t recall if there was any other type of interest - or whether it was kind of a straight-off attack with no warning or anything. But did they say anything else about the conditions, or the behaviour or anything else about the shark?
STREET: Nothing that I recall. One of those fishermen, he was only 18 at the time, he worked for me as my technician. We did extensive diving all over the place. He was always a very nervous diver, particularly when we were decompressing on our shot lines, and understandably so.
CRAWFORD: Do you recall, did he say if the party had fish on lines or floats at the time?
STREET: They would have had fish with them. They would have had nets that they would have put the speared fish in.
CRAWFORD: Back in the day, did spearfishermen use floats? And then have a line that tows the float?
STREET: Yes, exactly. That was standard practice, that’s what I used to do too.
CRAWFORD: The attacks at St. Clair and St. Kilda, what do you know about those attacks?
STREET: There was one body that they never found, but that they saw a lot of blood. I’m not sure, I think they got one of the bodies back. And there’s another occasion, when a surfboard rider was knocked off his board. Of course, there when you get on a surfboard with the arms paddling, it could simulate a marine mammal on the surface.
CRAWFORD: It could very well.
STREET: I’ve actually been in South Australia, and I met Rodney Fox there, you’ve probably heard of him. When I first went over there in 1975, the Abalone divers were all making up their shark cages at that stage. I was at Port Lincoln there, and the guy who took me out was nervous too. All the publicity, he hadn't been diving for about four weeks because his mate had been bitten in two by a Great White at the head of the gulf, Streaky Bay near Ceduna, that’s in southern Australia. But they were all making up their shark cages.
CRAWFORD: Roughly when was this?
CRAWFORD: And the Australian Abalone divers, or at least some of them that you had known, were making cages for their commercial abalone harvesting operations?
STREET: Yeah, you’ve probably seen this on 'Abalone Wars' - this recent program on television. Have you seen that?
CRAWFORD: I haven’t seen that. But in some regards, I reckon the Australian Abalone fishery would have had some parallels with the New Zealand Pāua industry? At the time, were there indications back in the 1970’s or at any point since that New Zealand Pāua divers were considering taking similar steps and having shark cages made for them?
STREET: Yeah, the Australian and particularly Green Abalones, they go down to a lot deeper water than what Pāua would do.
CRAWFORD: Down to say what, maybe 60-70 feet?
STREET: Yeah, I think they do have to go down to 100 feet, but I should say they were there on hookah gear, that they’re not free diving as they have to here. Anyway, their Abalone is a species that goes down to a lot deeper water.
CRAWFORD: People make reference to the Australian White Pointers, and one of the things that puzzles them is the attacks on humans, whether they are divers or boarders or swimmers - it's so much more frequent there in Australia than it is here in New Zealand. It's like an order of magnitude more frequent in Australian waters. Why do you figure that is?
STREET: I have never actually thought of that, and on the spot I can’t answer that. It might just be the fact that the White Pointers are more frequent over there.
CRAWFORD: It could be an abundance issue, in which case, that leads to the question, why do you think the White Pointers would be more abundant in Australian waters?
STREET: You could also say that it’s just the fact that Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania - White Pointers are just more abundant than they are here. I just surmise that, anyway.
CRAWFORD: Let's get back to St. Clair, St. Kilda, let's talk about the actual incidences. In fairly close proximity geographically, over a fairly short period of time, there were a series of rather dramatic White Pointer-human interactions around the Otago Peninsula between Aramoana, St. Clair, St. Kilda. Why do you think there would have been such a frequency of incidences specifically around the Otago Peninsula?
STREET: Some people would say that’s the same shark, but I think that would be hard to prove that. Actually, that point has been brought up several times. I remember, something in the newspaper about that, and nothing since. After that they put the shark nets in, you see.
CRAWFORD: Yes. I’ve interviewed some of the guys, commercial operators, that were responsible for working those nets. You put your finger on one of the things - some people say perhaps it was just one shark. And even though it occurred in different years, the possibility that that it was still one shark. Perhaps it went off someplace else, and then came back on a migration or something. You said there’s no evidence to support the idea that it was one individual shark, but at the same time, there’s no evidence against it either. Can you think of any other possible reason, why, in a short period of time, in close proximity, we would have three very rare events? Especially since It hasn’t happened since?
STREET: Well, exactly. Why should it only be the one shark, that’s the other one.
Copyright © 2017 Bob Street and Steve Crawford