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
5. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - EXPERIENCES OF OTHERS
CRAWFORD: What is your first memory of either hearing about, or seeing, a White Pointer?
HIND: Hearing of a White Pointer? Well, my Grandfather laid the first shark nets in South Africa. And he has pictures of him fishing on the rocks outside the whaling station in Durban, catching the White Pointers off the beach in those days.
CRAWFORD: He told you these stories about the White Pointers?
HIND: I never met him. He died before I was born, but my Mother told me stories. And my Father was a big fisherman as well, and he told me stories from a very small age. My family’s always been involved in the Natal Sharks Board, always been up there. I had this passion for sharks. From a little boy, I had everything from toy sharks, toy White Pointers, to going to the aquarium as often as I could to go and see the sharks.
CRAWFORD: Though it might not come directly from your Grandfather, it might go through your Father or your Mother or some other family member - stories about the whaling station. What stories did you hear about the association between White Pointers and the whaling stations?
HIND: Well, they would drag all the whales into the whaling station. We had one on this place called The Bluff, just off Durban - it's all been destroyed now. They used to drag the whales in there, and cut them all up and everything, with all their blood and stuff going into the water. There would always be a huge amount of White Pointers there.
CRAWFORD: When you say 'huge amount' ...
HIND: Stories I’ve heard, you wouldn’t go near the water. And when they were actually getting the whales out of the water, there’d be White Pointers up in the shore, breaking waist-deep water trying to get at these things. And big numbers of them. The guards used to just go down next to the whaling station with a big chunk of whale blubber on a big hook with a steel tracer, and lob it out into the waves and they’d hook up these 2000-pound White Pointers! My Grandfather kept a newspaper journal which I’ve dug desperately to get my hands on, which is now in the UK somewhere. From the days that he became involved in fishing, he kept a newspaper journal - every newspaper article that came out about fishing, sharks, or anything to do with the ocean, from about 1930-something. There’s this big thick A-3 journal, and I maintained it when I was growing up. My Mother did the same, so it's got everything from the very famous sardine run on the east coast and all of that. And I’ve got pictures in there of some gigantic [laughs] White Pointers.
CRAWFORD: We so quickly forget what happened, even in our everyday lives, much less the previous generations. That journal could actually be quite a bit more important to a greater number of people than you might have expected.
HIND: Yeah, I need to get a hold of my sisters and find out where it is. Because my Mother, before she passed away, that was to be left to me. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, it seems clear that in your life, White Pointers have pretty much been around since Day 1.
HIND: Day 1. I've always been aware of them.
CRAWFORD: In Fiordland, during the years when you were here, when you were fishing, boating, spearfishing down here. Did the old-timers or anybody else ever take you aside and say "By the way, you need to keep an eye out here or there"? Was it on the radar at all?
HIND: When I first started working down here, my boss [Peter Egerton] said to me "Watch out when you’re spearfishing, don’t at places like the Brig." He said "You’d be stupid to get in the water there in the summer." He said "You’d get eaten by a Great White."
CRAWFORD: Specifically, in the summer?
HIND: In the summer, yeah. He said, "I wouldn’t be getting in any of the deeper water, the Pinnacles [off Mitre Peak]. Stay close to shore, you’ll be alright. But you start going out to the Pinnacles along the coastline there, and you are going to have some serious problems."
CRAWFORD: And that was from somebody whose experience and judgement you trusted?
HIND: Thirty years Crayfishing, and fishing along the Fiordland coast. I trust everything he says, and he’s a man of very few words. When he says something, it's pretty much gospel truth.
CRAWFORD: How common was it for people to be spearfishing around Milford Sound, or any of the Fiordland sounds at the time? Was there a community of you?
HIND: Oh yes, there’s been people for years travelling down here. There’s a couple of boats that operate out of Doubtful and Dusky that spearfishermen would be chartering for the last 10, 15 years. I’ve only heard a couple of stories from guys "Oh yeah, we possibly saw a White." I know one Pāua diver here, a Māori, he’s 100% certain he saw one, and that was just outside Milford.
CRAWFORD: When was that, roughly?
HIND: He actually told me that about a year ago.
HIND: Just outside Milford, towards Transit [Beach] down here. The guys do a bit of commercial diving down here.
CRAWFORD: Commercial Pāua diving?
CRAWFORD: What time of year was it?
HIND: I forget now.
CRAWFORD: What do you recollect about the circumstance - what he said?
HIND: We were just talking about Great Whites. I actually just said to him, because he talked about free diving, I said, “Oh, have you had any run-ins with sharks?” He said “I see the Sevengillers quite often, they can be pretty nasty. Just stay out of their way. But the other day I saw a White.” I can’t remember the exact story, but he said he definitely saw a White. And he’s one of those guys who’s been in the water all his life. He said if you’ve seen a White, you’ve seen a White.
CRAWFORD: Did you get the impression - without knowing the details - that it would have been maybe a Level 2 swim-by, or maybe a Level 3?
HIND: Just a swim-by.
CRAWFORD: In terms of other people who could have seen White Pointers, anywhere in Fiordland - do you remember any reliable people telling you that they had seen a White Pointer in the region?
HIND: A couple of stories. Guys can’t be certain, but again these are coming from guys who spend a lot of time on the water. There’s Rosco’s Kayaks guys. They were talking about, I think it was last year, beginning of last year. Right outside the harbour here, they saw the Dolphins. It looked like they were giving something very big a very hard time. That was up in shallow water. When they got closer, they said it was a massive big shark, possibly a Great White.
CRAWFORD: In terms of large sharks, have you ever seen any Basking Sharks in Milford Sound, or anywhere in the outer Fiordland waters?
HIND: Porbeagles, maybe. I’ve heard stories of guys seeing, catching Porbeagles.
CRAWFORD: Where exactly?
HIND: Just outside the entrance to the harbour here, so deep water, still very deep. But it was heading up into shallow water, right up against outside the waterfall.
CRAWFORD: Right, but not far from here at the wharf? As in less than a kilometre?
HIND: Yeah, less than a kilometre.
CRAWFORD: Roughly, when was this?
HIND: Beginning of last year, around February - maybe 11 or 12 months ago.
HIND: And then this last winter gone by, we had a guy named Tim Taylor, he’s probably the top kayaking fishing guide in New Zealand. He holds two world kayaking records for ocean kayaking, writes articles in all the fishing magazines. He is the top kayak fishing guide in New Zealand. He was here working, just for the winter, as a kayak guide. And he is one of these crazy guys who likes to go out in his racing surfski and paddle 15 kilometres for a training paddle. He was heading out, and was just before Saint Anne Point over here, and he said he saw a Seal jumping around, and it looked like in the distance that the Seal was throwing a fish. “Oh, the Seal’s got a fish, and I’m a fisherman, so I’m gonna have a look.” So, he pulled off to go over there, and as he got there, a big explosion, and then quite a lot of blood in the water. What it turned out, it was a Seal jumping to get away from a White Pointer. When he got there, the White had actually got it, and he came right up next to the Great White, and he said it was as long as a surfski which is ... well, he said it was as long as a surfski, but I think it was his adrenalin going, because a surfski’s 6.4 metres long. And he said it was definitely a Great White, was right up on the surface, it just hit the Seal, and his training session got very quick after that. He quit it, he turned and headed home.
CRAWFORD: When was this?
HIND: Last year, middle of winter - May/June time.
CRAWFORD: Did he say anything about the shark paying attention to him?
CRAWFORD: Didn’t circle?
HIND: No, wasn’t interested.
CRAWFORD: How close was that, do you reckon, to the nearest aggregation of Seals in the Milford Sound region?
HIND: About seven years ago, I remember there being Seals all along the rocks here. But you’ve got Yates Point up north here, which has the highest concentration of Seals anywhere in the country.
CRAWFORD: As in roughly how many?
HIND: They reckon there’s over 30,000 Seals around Yates Point.
CRAWFORD: For something like that, as soon as I hear a situation where there’s a massive, aggregation of seals ...
HIND: Food source.
CRAWFORD: And for that reason, you’d expect that the shark sightings around here would be higher.
HIND: No one ever goes around there. I’ve actually talked to a couple of helicopter pilots saying that when you do fly over there, to show people the Seal population, instead of looking at the seals, look out around the peripherals. Because you’re probably going to find that it’s a massive food source. What we learned in South Africa is, find the food source, you’re going to find the Whites.
CRAWFORD: Seals are one potential food source, but fish as well. I’m guessing there are no standard scenic tours that go out to Yates Point on a regular basis?
HIND: No, it’s too far. It’s more than five kilometres north of Milford Sound.
CRAWFORD: But helicopter pilots would pass as part of a scenic tour?
HIND: Yep. They’ll fly past there quite a lot. But then again, they’re looking at scenery, they’re not particularly looking in the water. I’ve just been talking to my mate, Paul Mitchell from Heli Tours, and saying to them “Next time you fly out there, this time of year, keep your eyes open, because all the females are all starting to arrive. They’re coming across from South Australia, swimming across the ocean, and if they’re swimming here, they’re going to be hitting the land somewhere around here. And there’s a big source of Seals over there, a big source of food for them.”
CRAWFORD: That’s very interesting. In terms of helicopter pilots that do that route. I’ve got a couple of references in here from others about chopper pilots that I should try to reach out to. Based on your knowledge of the community here, who are some of the most experienced long-time helicopter pilots?
HIND: Well, you’ve got Jeff Shanks, you’ve got ‘Hannibal’ [Richard Hayes]. ‘Choppy’ Patterson, who owns Over the Top Helicopters - I don’t know what her first name is [Louisa]. She’s a legend. She’s another one like ‘Hannibal’, been flying all her life. Paul Mitchell, he owns Heli Tours.
CRAWFORD: That’s great. Thank you for those leads.
HIND: There was another incident that happened two weeks ago with a White Pointer here.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Please tell me about that.
HIND: Scuba divers radioed me, the guys from Descend Scuba Diving, they radioed me, saying, “Did you see the Seal?” I said “What Seal?” They said “When you get to the point half-way up, the big congregation of Seals there, have a look at the one Seal.” We came around and he had a bite that would have been from his ribs, all the way through his torso, down to his tail fins. One of his tail fin’s missing, with bones sticking out, and pretty much all of his intestines are hanging out. He’s still alive, and managed to be lying on the rocks with everything just open.”
CRAWFORD: Not dead?!
HIND: No. We saw him. He was quite resilient, because he had all his intestines hanging out, and we saw him for a day swimming around about the water, and then half up the rocks again. And then he disappeared, we never saw him again. I spoke to Lance the next day, and he said that he and his charter scuba divers were further out at Dale Point, about to get in the water, and he said he saw the fin come up. He said a massive big fin, and he’s a scuba diver who does a lot of conservation work up out of Marlborough Sounds and stuff. I trust his judgement and he says he’s 90% certain it was a Great White that just came straight past them, heading up the Sound. And that was two weeks ago.
CRAWFORD: So, the White Pointer went past his group ...
HIND: Straight in between them and their boat at Dale Point. He said they were probably 20 metres off the shore, and this White came up, and he saw the fin and it just carried on going up the fiord.
CRAWFORD: And that was the day after you and the others saw the wounded seal?
CRAWFORD: So, a large shark, probably a White Pointer in the immediate region, within a day or so?
HIND: Within the fiord. And this was seen by all of us, all the skippers around here had a good look at that injured Seal. Some said “Oh no, it could have been a Sevengiller.” And a few of us said “Oh no, not that extent of an injury.”
CRAWFORD: Would you consider that even amongst the old-timers here, that would have been an extremely rare thing to observe? A seal with that extensive wounding?
HIND: Oh, yeah. You talk to a couple of the skippers like Roger from JUCY Tours - but he’s on days off at the moment. He’s been here for about 20 years. And he was scuba diver for the underwater observatory here. He was involved when they had the submarine here, and he’s seen Makos in the fiord, at 600 feet.
CRAWFORD: What’s Roger’s last name?
HIND: He’s German. Everyone just knows him as JUCY Rodger. And he’s seen Seals with big injuries before.
CRAWFORD: As far as you know from your mates or the old-timers, has there ever been an observation where White Pointers were seen travelling in groups?
HIND: My boss talks about fishing out at the Brig, which is that little reef out there. Fishing at the Brig, where they saw some when they were fishing Groper or maybe it was Blue Cod.
CRAWFORD: Fishing handline or rod and reel?
HIND: Rod and reel. Pulling line up, and then all of a sudden, they saw White Pointers were coming up, and they were eating the fish off the line. He said “You couldn’t get a fish to the surface.” I said, “Are you sure they weren’t Sevengillers? Because they do that to us here all the time. Sevengillers are an absolute nightmare.” He said, “Nope, they were definitely White Pointers.”
CRAWFORD: And as a group, they were going after fish on their lines?
HIND: He said, eventually they had to move because there was just so many of them. And I said “How many?” and he said “three or four or five of them, just pulling up, just heaps of them.”
CRAWFORD: And this was all at one time, it wasn’t throughout the day?
HIND: All at one time.
CRAWFORD: Ok. That’s great. Is there anything else about these White Pointers that I should know? From your perspective?
HIND: I’ve always been under the belief that Great Whites are a lot more intelligent than we believe. A hell of a lot more intelligent. [George Eskie] always said to me “They’re known as the ‘professor of the sea.’ And he thought that they, in cage diving, will actually show them that humans are not actually food. The White Pointers actually learn to know what we are.
HIND: That’s what George said. But I still don’t agree with it, because we are introducing something unnatural into their natural environment. But I don’t know enough about them, to be honest. You know what I mean? Personally, I mean like in Cape Town, we can rock up to a spot ... the only way I can put it into context is from experience with Bull Sharks. The Bull Sharks on the east coast of South Africa where I’m from, have now associated boats with food.
CRAWFORD: That is just accepted by everybody?
HIND: They just know that you’re out there, especially with Spanish Mackerel, you hook your Spanish mackerel. Especially if you’re fishing, you bring up the boat, as they get to the boat, you’ll see the Bull Shark at the boat, he’ll smash it, and you’ll lose your fish. And once that starts, you will not get a fish to the boat, so you’ve got to move.
CRAWFORD: When you say that in the case of the Bull Shark, that they associated the boat with the food - does that mean that they’re visiting boats then, that don’t even have fish on the line?
HIND: Yep. And they also, with spearfishermen, in certain areas like at Aliwal Shoal, where we do a lot of diving, the sharks are very attentive. I fired my gun before to prove a point to some British divers, to say “Guys watch out, because the sharks know the sound of the gun.” You fire the gun - without any sharks around - you’ve got a Bull Shark on you. It’s right there, and it’s watching.
CRAWFORD: And it wants fish?
HIND: And his pectorals have dropped, and he’s a little bit aggressive, and now he’s looking, looking, looking. You reload the gun and that’s it - you shoot a fish, he’s straight on the fish. Just from experience and what I’ve seen through South Africa, they started hand-feeding Tiger Sharks on the shoal - where there aren’t cages. Shark dive charters, giving the guys half a Tuna, and when you get down there, the Tiger will swim up to you, you feed him. This is a scuba diver, with no cages, and they’re just hand-feeding Tiger Sharks, and some of them are very, very big animals. The last time I was there in 2007, I hopped in the water to go for a dive, swam down to the bottom, and a big Tiger swam straight up to me, not aggressive, just swam up to me as if to say “Where’s my food?”
CRAWFORD: [laughs] I’m sorry ...
HIND: I’m sitting on the bottom in about 18 metres of water, and I’ve got a big spear gun in my hand, and he moved away, and came back - came right up to me to the point that I could push him away from me. But no aggressive behaviour, just saying “Hand me the tuna!” Eventually, I had to poke him with the gun, and I went to the surface, and he just followed me back up, and at the surface, again just swimming around me, not being aggressive like “I want to attack you.” Just “Give me my food, give me my food.” That was enough for me to get out of the water. I went and had a big row with the guys from [Aliwal Dive Charters] saying this Tiger, all it wanted was food, it wasn’t showing aggression to me. The owner of the company said, “Well, then what’s the problem?” Because one day, somebody is going to get eaten.
CRAWFORD: Because that shark is going to ...
HIND: It’s associating humans with food.
CRAWFORD: Or there could be some level of expectation or frustration, if it’s not getting what it thinks it needs.
HIND: I had an argument with a guy when I was in Fiji last year. A British guy had a huge argument with me. He said it’s very good, because they feed all the Bull Sharks, and they do shark diving in Fiji on the coral coast down at Pacific Harbour, and they have some of the best shark diving in the world there. But they actually go out there with big boxes of Tuna, and chuck it out. and they’ll have 20 or 30 sharks swimming around. Bull Sharks and Tigers and everything, and the divers just sit off in amongst the rocks and they don’t have any problems. Well, they do have the odd bite on people. While I was there, he said his whole hand got bitten by a Bull Shark, but these sort of things are never reported by the Fiji government because it’s bad for tourism. And this British guy said to me “This is brilliant, they should keep doing this, they should feed them every day, and keep them there.” And I said “Why? I would rather go into the natural environment, and see them just by chance if I was spearfishing or scuba diving.” “Oh, look, there’s a shark.” Rather than going down there, and having sharks that are an unnatural environment, and unnatural food sources, and unnatural things in their natural environment. So why do it?
CRAWFORD: Ok, I hadn’t expected all of that. But I’m glad that you’ve given your opinion, and that you were able to give it so clearly.
Copyright © 2017 Craig Hind and Steve Crawford