Chris Hepburn

Hepburn_Chris Small.png

YOB: 1974
Experience: Marine Ecologist
Regions: Otago, Banks Peninsula, Catlins, Foveaux Strait, Rakiura/Stewart Island, Fiordland
Interview Location: Dunedin, NZ
Interview Date: 21 December 2015
Post Date: 17 May 2017; Copyright © 2017 Chris Hepburn and Steve Crawford


CRAWFORD: What do you know about White Pointer attacks on humans in New Zealand? Where? When?

HEPBURN: Chatham Islands. There was an attack on Kina Scollay. Had a bit of a nibble. When was that? Must to been mid 1990s. There is that one I was telling you about at Aramoana. I think that was in the late 70s. and around that time there were also attacks on the beaches here [Dunedin], St. Clair and around there. I've heard of one down at Riverton, but that was a Sevengill. I also heard about somebody getting nibbled at Karitane as well, but I'm fairly certain that was a Sevengill too. I think some of these ones where people get attacked in the surf, and there's not a hell of a lot of damage, or tapped, bumped, whatever it is.

CRAWFORD: in those nearshore cases, you think the more likely culprit is the Sevengiller?

HEPBURN: I think so, yeah.

CRAWFORD: Is that because White Pointers are not as likely to be in the surf?

HEPBURN: I wouldn't expect them to be in the surf. It just doesn't seem like their kind of habitat. Not favourable territory for a Great White to be in. 

CRAWFORD: But would you expect a Sevengiller to be in the surf?

HEPBURN: Yep. Because they feed on crabs and things like that. Paddle Crabs and flatfish, things like that.

CRAWFORD: In terms of Sevengiller-human interactions, if you had to characterize their usual level of interaction, could they be expected to show that kind of Level 3 or Level 4 engagement with humans?

HEPBURN: Oh yeah. If you've got fish in the water, they'll come right up to you. I was out having a snorkel at Karitane with my wife, and I said “Come over and have a look.” She came over, and it came right up to her side and started sniffing, and I thought “Shit, it’s going to bite her.” Then it swam away. Derek was out there, he works for Ngāi Tahu now. He was out there diving in the kelp forest, and sitting there having a pee - just sitting in the water, and he felt something and he thought he had a bit of kelp around his leg, and he looks down and it's a Sevengill sucking his leg - it was just sucking it. But I've heard rumours about that, peeing in your wetsuit.

CRAWFORD: What have you heard?

HEPBURN: I was diving out at the Mole [Aramoana] once, and this South African guy came up to me. He said “Don’t pee in your wetsuit. Most people who get attacked by sharks pee in their wetsuit.” And I'm like “I'm not sure if it's before or after, it's kinda hard to work it out sometimes.” I don't know if that's one of the things that sharks like.

CRAWFORD: Sharks in general? White Pointers in particular?

HEPBURN: Well, they certainly have Great Whites at Cape Town. But again, interactions with the public on the beach when you have time on your own - they tend to be a little bit silly.

CRAWFORD: Do you think that the White Pointer attacks are level 4 predatory - the sharks knew what they were doing? Or Level 4 - mistaken identity? Or maybe Level 4 - something else?

HEPBURN: Mistaken identity.

CRAWFORD: The sharks thought they were getting a seal, or something else?

HEPBURN: Or they would just testing to see what it was, and they bit too hard for the human. Because I can't see any value in them … It has to be a mistake. Why would you be directing your attention on people? From my understanding, this is quite a well-adapted and focused species. They don't want to get hurt, they don't want to risk getting damaged. So they're going to be hitting from below.

Copyright © 2017 Chris Hepburn and Steve Crawford