Experience: Boater, Recreational Fisherman, Scuba Diver, Spearfisherman, Charter Skipper
Regions: North Island, Fiordland
Interview Location: Milford Sound, NZ
Interview Date: 05 February 2016
Post Date: 01 December 2017; Copyright © 2017 Craig Hind and Steve Crawford
4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE
CRAWFORD: When was the first time that you recall seeing a White Pointer in the wild?
HIND: I could actually tell you the almost exact date. It was February, either 1997 or 1998. Spearfishing competition off Durban, off the actual bluff where the whaling station used to be. My mate and I were on my Dad’s yacht. I jumped in the water, swam down to the bottom, there were 25 metres of water lying over a ridge, me with my gun, looking, waiting, waiting. And this big black shadow came very slowly over me, and then I saw it was a very big, very, very big female White Pointer. She turned and came straight up to me, had a good look. I remember her gaping as she came past me, and then just cruised off - visibility was about eight metres at a bit of sea. I hit the surface at a race of knots for the yacht. My Mother said I came out of the water with two spear guns and all my diving gear - just stepped onto the boat, and handed her my gun. I was quicker than a Seal getting out the water, much to my mate’s disgust as he climbed in - because I got caught up in his buoy line, and we dragged him on the boat. And this White came up and circled the yacht for maybe 20 seconds, and then just gracefully disappeared again.
CRAWFORD: You reckon it was the same animal?
HIND: It had to be. [laughs] It may not have been, but it was about the same size as the one that I saw in the water - and that one was HUGE.
CRAWFORD: You said it was a female. At that stage, how did you figure that it was a female or a male?
HIND: She came right over me, and I didn’t see claspers. And just the girth of her.
CRAWFORD: You obviously knew what you were looking at. And even though the shock of it would have set you into a different frame of mind, the fact that you would have even known about claspers to look for in a male, versus a female which don't have claspers.
HIND: I mean, I’ve seen so many sharks, spearfishing, every day we get in the water, we see sharks.
CRAWFORD: But that was your first White Pointer?
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]. Based on this first direct experience with a White Pointer in the wild, where along the scale do you figure that would be?
HIND: Almost heading up to a Level 3. She came over me, got a good look at me, and she turned and did this ... almost like she turned on a dime. She was there, and suddenly she was straight at me, and when she was there like a reach away from me, I remember the mouth gaping as she came past, and then just disappeared off. I wasn’t waiting to see any more.
CRAWFORD: Yes, that’s a little bit more than a swim-by. And if it was truly the same animal that you later saw circling around the boat after you were on board, then clearly that would be a Level 3. One specific thing about that. That gaping behaviour - what do you think was with that?
HIND: I don’t know. It felt like a challenge.
CRAWFORD: Did you get the feeling that the teeth were flashed or anything like that?
HIND: No. It was just a mouthing.
CRAWFORD: Mouth open and closed? But a little bit more abrupt?
HIND: I saw that mouth open and close. I can still picture it very clearly.
CRAWFORD: Well, who knows? Who knows if anything that animal was doing would have been communication.
HIND: She didn’t ... I mean, I’ve had hundreds of encounters with things like Bull Sharks, where when they’re swimming flat, the pectorals are flat, they’re not doing any erratic movements. I carry on diving, and just keep an eye. The one that drops his pectorals, and arches his back, and starts to do very erratic movements - that’s when it's time to get out of the water. He’s starting to get a bit annoyed with you. And when she didn’t do any of that, she came, she turned, and it was almost like just "What are you? I’m coming in to have a look." I didn’t feel threatened, like "Oh my God, she’s going to try and eat me." It was just sort of "Well, she’s there, and then just disappeared." And again, I mean I did panic and went up to the surface, hopped in the boat rapidly and so on. But it wasn't really because of anything that she did.
CRAWFORD: It was more a function of you, than it was of her?
HIND: Yeah, it was.
CRAWFORD: How many White Pointers do you reckon you’ve seen in the wild?
HIND: Oh, well when I was down in Cape Town, every day we saw them. There’d be any number when diving down there. But besides Cape Town ...
CRAWFORD: What do you mean 'every day you saw them'?
HIND: Well, all the shark work down in Cape Town, when I was skippering a few boats down there. We'd go to Seal Island, and help out with some of the cage divers, and tow decoys around and stuff.
CRAWFORD: You have direct experience with shark cage tour dive operations in South Africa?
HIND: A little bit. I’ve done a lot of work with, have you ever heard of a guy named [George Eskie]. I know Georgie very, very well.
CRAWFORD: Is George an operator?
HIND: He used to be. He set up the first cage diving operation in 1969 in South Africa. And he was one of the guys who wrote most of the constitution for shark diving in South Africa. When Peter Scott was setting up down here, George came rushing out here saying "You guys are setting up with no regulations, no understanding. This is our South African constitution. Have a read of it, and have a look. Otherwise somebody’s going to die very, very quickly over here, and you’re going to cause all sorts of problems." He went to try to consult with Department of Conservation, he even stayed at Tim Shadbolt’s house for about three or four months, while he was trying to promote a safer thing for the sharks, for the people, and for the whole tourism market. George lived with me for six months here as well, because he was trying to persuade me to give up my fishing charter business, and go set up a white shark diving business down in Stewart Island. And he had the boat, the design, the anti-breach cages, the whole lot all set.
CRAWFORD: That didn’t interest you? Or was it the economics of it, or the timing?
HIND: I just couldn’t. He wanted a lot more money.
CRAWFORD: Ok. That’s an important thing. Partly because you had direct experience with shark cage tour dive operations in South Africa, and partly because you had direct situational awareness of what was happening here in New Zealand during the early days. That would have been eight or nine years ago, now?
CRAWFORD: In the early days of them trying to set up, what were George’s principle technical concerns - in terms of either the boat, the cage, the people, the sharks?
HIND: His first thing was problems they had in South Africa with sharks breaching [the cages]. The wranglers, the person who’s actually wrangling the shark to the cage, some were too aggressive with the shark on top of the cage, damaging itself, and hurting people inside the cage. And it was a cage structure that he had designed which I thought was absolutely brilliant, which actually clips onto the side of the boat or the stern of the boat and is lowered down hydraulically, so people actually get lowered into the water. And it has an anti-breach chamber so when people are climbing in and out of the cage, they’ve got nowhere to fall over the cage, or out of the sides of the cage. All built in stainless steel, and it all folds away, you just set it up.
CRAWFORD: At the same time, a severe impediment to any animal coming in on top of the cage?
HIND: Yeah, any shark coming in on top of this roll will just slide straight off. There’s no flat top, there’s no buoys, it's fixed to the back of the boat. There’s no chance of any big animal landing on top and sliding off. And for people getting in and out of the cage, they’re not climbing into a hole, where if you do have a very aggressive shark swimming around, you slip and fall, and you fall over the top of it, or anything like that.
CRAWFORD: How many times in South Africa do you reckon you had worked with shark cage tour dive operations? How many different instances would you have been either on a boat, or on a boat associated with an operation?
HIND: Probably ten times.
CRAWFORD: Just based on that sample, you had seen a number of White Pointers. Roughly, during a session like this, how many White Pointers at a time would you have seen?
HIND: Oh, maximum probably two or three. All depended on what was happening. Normally the smaller ones first. What I found was that the smaller ones would tend to hang on the cage, and then a larger one would arrive, a more dominant one, and the smaller ones would just disappear straight away.
CRAWFORD: Using the Levels of classification in that context, Levels 1-4. If Level 1 is an animal that you can see but it doesn’t come close to the cage, Leve 2 is an animal that briefly comes into closer proximity for a swim-by, Level 3 would be an animal that stays, circles, maybe do a little bit of exploring, Level 4 is attitude. What would the split be for the animals that you saw or heard about in South Africa?
HIND: Probably 2½ to 4. I’ve had them come up, and grab hold of the outboard motor before - and have a good go at the outboard motor, trimming it up to see if it would let go.
CRAWFORD: Aggressively side to side shaking it? Or just mouthing it?
HIND: Mouthing it. I’ve had one incident where, in False Bay, one very big White Pointer came up, and got hold of the outboard, and sort of latched onto it - but it wasn’t a slow mouthing like we’d had quite often. It actually came in quite hard, grabbed hold, actually gave a shake, let go, came back in again, and kept nudging the boat a few times. We decided it was time to leave very quickly. We were only on a 16-foot open boat, with twin 30 horsepower outboards in the back. When the shark is swimming with the boat, and you can see the tail one side and the head the other side, and there’s pectorals on either side, you suddenly realize "Yeah, time to go."
CRAWFORD: By 'got hold of the outboard' do you mean the prop? The rudder?
HIND: The prop, yeah.
CRAWFORD: I think you said before that there were maybe a dozen times total you’ve seen White Pointers in the wild back in South Africa?
HIND: Yep. Another time was at Aliwal Shoal, where I’ve had a very close encounter with another very big shark as well. I was diving in a spearfishing competition, and we were all on a driftline. We had two of us in the water, and the boat following us. There were four or five other boats that were diving the line of the reef. There was quite a strong current. And I was down on the bottom ...
CRAWFORD: This was spearfishing while free diving?
HIND: Yeah, free diving. Lying on the bottom, probably 15-18 metres of water, looking for fish. I’m not sure if it was a male or female, but it was very big. Just the girth was huge again, It came out of the gloom, looked like a submarine, came right up, I could see the eye and everything. Came past me, had a look, just disappeared off, didn’t turn, just carried on going. And I swam to the surface and shouted for the boat “Come and get me, there’s a White here!” And about 20 metres away, my mate pops up and says “You better come and get me, there’s a White here!” And the next boat, and she went along all the spear fishermen, having a look, and then just disappeared.
CRAWFORD: In our encounter classification, that was like the ultimate swim-by.
HIND: That was the ultimate swim-by, yes.
CRAWFORD: She was just checking in on every single diver on her way by?
HIND: I actually sat there, and watched her, and didn’t feel threatened. She came, and I said, “My God, it’s a white!” And she just ...
CRAWFORD: Very casual, again?
HIND: Just cruised on by. There was no threatening behaviour. I just watched her and thought “If she turns, I’m in trouble.” But she just carried on going, disappeared. The minute she disappeared, I thought “It’s not the shark that you see that’s going to eat you, it’s the shark that you can’t see.” I thought “She knows that I’m here. I don’t know where she is now. I’m out of here.” It was a long 18 metres to the surface. Another boat was right there, so I’m getting on that boat really quickly.
CRAWFORD: Any other things that would constitute Level 4 behaviour that you had seen from those White Pointers?
HIND: Seals. I’ve seen them attack Seals. I’ve seen them on a Whale before.
CRAWFORD: You have? Whale carcass or living Whale?
HIND: No, Whale carcass.
CRAWFORD: Roughly how many White Pointers would you see around a Whale carcass?
HIND: We only saw one, the rest were Tiger Sharks.
CRAWFORD: So, it was mixed species?
HIND: Well, there were a few Tigers there the first day we were there. Next day we go up, there was some Tigers and then a big White Pointer arrived, and she just ate and ate and ate. Munched her way through this thing, it was incredible to watch.
CRAWFORD: How many bites do you figure she took off?
HIND: Oh, we watched her for about 20 minutes. She’d circle around a bit - almost like she was digesting the skin and everything down. And then she’d come back up, her head would come out of the water, she’d latch on, and a very slow shake, and then she’d take a big chunk out.
CRAWFORD: That was when you were doing fishing charters?
HIND: That was when I was doing fishing charters, that was off the south coast of Durban, around the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal.
CRAWFORD: When you saw White Pointers taking a run at Seals, how many times did you see that?
HIND: Oh, quite often when we were out off Seal Rock, especially dusk and dawn. Seals coming back - and all of a sudden [click], a breach out of the water, and the Seal would go flying, and it would be chaos.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever have an occasion where a White Pointer took a run at a Seal where it did not breach? Or was it characteristically a breach?
HIND: No, I’ve seen it that way, where the Whites come up, and turn at the surface, and at the last minute he’s had a go. It's almost like he’s backing out on the Seals, and then immediately the one will hop onto its tail. And then wherever that White Pointer goes, that Seal's on his tail, he won’t get off his tail. We’ve had them swim up and actually ... the Seal trying to take cover at our boat before.
CRAWFORD: 'Take cover' as in, get on board?
HIND: Swim to the boat and, we’re in a catamaran, and he’s in between the hull, in and around the engines and stuff.
CRAWFORD: In terms of all of the time that you have spent as a skipper on the Milford Cruise job, have you ever seen a White Pointer when you’ve been out there?
CRAWFORD: When was that?
HIND: February 2014.
CRAWFORD: Summer time, two years ago. What were the circumstances?
HIND: Beautiful calm day, it was quite hot. I remember the water was very, very clean.
CRAWFORD: What do you mean that it was ‘clean’?
HIND: Crystal clear. It was blue, blue, blue.
CRAWFORD: That’s unusual for Milford Sound?
HIND: Very unusual.
HIND: Because all of the freshwater layers. And just around at Martins Bay is a glacier that feeds a river out here. And when we get any rain, it feeds this horrible, green, powdered glacial water down. And it can get quite murky at the front. So, when we do get the nice clean days, we’ve got to get out there, and go for a dive - because it’s not very often.
CRAWFORD: Ok. February 2014. What would you estimate the water visibility in the Sound to have been?
HIND: Oh, 15 to 18 metres. Crystal clear.
CRAWFORD: Wow. Ok.
HIND: We’re going along in 10 metres of water, and I could see the bottom perfectly.
CRAWFORD: This is while you’re skippering?
HIND: Yep. Cruising along.
CRAWFORD: Where did you see the shark?
HIND: In Milford Sound, out over here, just passed Dale Point, just heading out.
CRAWFORD: The outer half of Milford Sound, where it opens up to the Tasman Sea?
HIND: The northern side. Yeah, there’s sort of more open ocean area there, and we were heading across. I was talking about fishing and everything on my commentary, and someone at the front said “Oh look, that looks like an Orca.” I stuck my head out, I saw the big black shape and said “If it was an Orca, it would be coming up, and we would see this big long dorsal fin come up. It’s not an Orca, that’s a Great White Shark.” I slowed the boat down. It was cruising in.
CRAWFORD: It was coming in to the Sound, as you were going out?
HIND: No, we were coming in as well, and we drove next to it. Soon as we got up close, we must have had it for ten seconds. Enough time to say to everyone “Ladies and gentlemen, looks like there may be a Great White Shark on our left of us here,” and then it just disappeared.
CRAWFORD: Did you see it at the surface, was the fin cutting?
HIND: It was just below the surface, I could make out. It was definitely a Great White. It’s girth - it was phenomenal, in comparison to her or its length. I don’t know if it was a male or female, I couldn’t tell that for sure.
CRAWFORD: Roughly, what time of day would that have been?
HIND: It was on our 2:45 cruise, so it would have been around 4 o’clock.
CRAWFORD: If I remember your estimate, somewhere between 1300 and 1400 cruises, over three years as a full-time skipper, you had one observation here in Fiordland of a White Pointer?
HIND: It wasn’t even in the fiord.
CRAWFORD: Right. It was just on the outer margin of the fiord.
Copyright © 2017 Craig Hind and Steve Crawford