Damian Briggs

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YOB: 1943
Experience: Commercial Fisherman
Regions: Westland, Fiordland
Interview Location: Deep Water Basin, Milford Sound, NZ
Interview Date: 06 February 2016
Post Date: 01 December 2017; Copyright © 2017 Damian Briggs and Steve Crawford

4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE

CRAWFORD: What’s the first time you remember seeing a White Pointer?

BRIGGS: 1966. There’s actually a photo in the Greymouth Evening Star, of me sitting next to it. It was hanging out the mast on the Red Witch. They got it tangled up in the gillnet outside the sound here. 

CRAWFORD: Outside Milford Sound? 

BRIGGS: Yeah. The dragger that caught it, [Jack Edge] out at Dale Point, at the mouth of Milford Sound. In a setnet on the west wind, couldn’t lift it. We had trawl gear, so we could lift it to the mast and block-and-tackle. So, we lift it with a trawl winch, and a Seal fell out of its gut. We hung it on the mast [right-arm]. And [chalk-aped the rubbish] about the record, and all that crap. And we sailed it home, and they put it in the Greymouth Evening Star. Still around somewhere, I don’t know where it is. And that is the first time I ever seen one. 

CRAWFORD: When you were a kid growing up, did you ever hear about White Pointers, or was it just 'sharks'? 

BRIGGS: Just sharks. Everyone knew what a shark was. 

CRAWFORD: Right, but they didn’t talk specifically about White Pointers? 

BRIGGS: No. Not that I can remember. One of my boats called the [Venture], a 60-footer, caught a big female White Pointer off here.

CRAWFORD: Off of where, Jackson Head? 

BRIGGS: No. Off Open Bay Islands again, up here.

CRAWFORD: And this was when, roughly? 

BRIGGS: There’s a photo in the restaurant in Haast of it hanging up on the wharf in Greymouth. When was that? Oh, I can’t remember, probably late 90s. It was a big White Pointer, had a bite out of its dorsal fin. 

CRAWFORD: Do you remember roughly the time of year? 

BRIGGS: I can’t remember the time of year, but it would be ... the boat was down there sharking, looking for school shark. And it come up, rolled up half the gear, you know? Got tangled up, and drowned. 

CRAWFORD: In the setnet? 

BRIGGS: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: And it was dead?

BRIGGS: It was dead, so they towed it home. The [Venture] was a 60-foot boat, and she couldn’t lift it out of the water. We lifted it with a wharf crane at Greymouth. And it was a big shark, a bite out of its fin, had the claspers and that. And there was a photo of it. I haven’t got any photos, but I had some real good photos of it. 

CRAWFORD: If it had claspers, it was a big male. 

BRIGGS: A male is it? 

CRAWFORD: With claspers? Yeah. 

BRIGGS: No, they said it was a female. 

CRAWFORD: I’ll check it out - the picture of it. 

BRIGGS: The picture with Jason standing next to it. It’s in the Haast Restaurant, the little restaurant.

CRAWFORD: I’m going to phone them up, and ask them if they can maybe scan it for me - send me a copy of the picture. 

BRIGGS: I think they’ll do that. Michael Smith caught the fish, he was running the boat for me. 

CRAWFORD: That animal, did it ever get lifted up on the wharf? 

BRIGGS: No. We cut it up, and put it in the rubbish tin. 

CRAWFORD: Did anybody go after the teeth or the jaws? 

BRIGGS: The Skipper took the teeth, and I got the fins. And believe it or not, I was going up to Nelson for a conference. We flew up, we were going up in a helicopter, so we flew up with the fins on the floor, frozen, some of them. $1100 or something like that, because the dorsal was damaged with a bite out of it - they didn’t want to pay top dollar for it. 

CRAWFORD: Did that bite look like it was a fresh bite? Maybe from another shark that came in while it was in the net? 

BRIGGS: No. It was pretty healed up. 

CRAWFORD: So, something had taken that big bite previously, and it had survived. This was a big fish - f you had to guess, how much do you think it might have weighed?

BRIGGS: Well, we did weigh it. I think it was 1500 kilos. 

CRAWFORD: Wow. 

BRIGGS: Yeah, it was a big fish. We had to chop it up to get it in the offal bins. And it was weighed as we were doing it. I’m pretty sure it would come to 1500 kilos. That was liver and all. 

CRAWFORD: I will check with the photo, but if you had to guess from recollection, roughly how long would it have been? 

BRIGGS: Oh, you could stand in the jaw when it was open. I had two or three jigs fit in it. It was about that round with the jaw open. 

CRAWFORD: Like a metre wide?

BRIGGS: Yeah. And it would be 16 feet, 17 feet. 

CRAWFORD: Did you cut open the guts? 

BRIGGS: I don’t know whether they did or not, now I can’t remember. I can’t remember if they cut it up. Well, they cut the whole thing up, but I can’t remember what was in the guts. But I know the one out here in Anita Bay - that one hung out for Seals.

CRAWFORD: After that White Pointer - the one that got caught in the setnet at Open Bay Islands - what was the next time that you saw one?

BRIGGS: Never saw another one since. 

CRAWFORD: In all the years that you fished along this coast, you saw two White Pointers?

BRIGGS: No, hang on. The one out here at Brig Rock. It ate a full-sized Albatross.

CRAWFORD: When was that? 

BRIGGS: Oh, that would be ’67. Yeah, cause [Eddie Marley] was with me as the crew. I saw it, and I said "Did you fuckin’ see that?" And he said "I wish the fuck I hadn’t!" [laughs] Because it came along, and honestly it didn’t spit it out. A full-sized Albatross would be over a metre high, it was only 20 feet from the boat. It just come up, and went ‘Shuu’. 

CRAWFORD: The shark’s mouth, it went up and over the bird?

BRIGGS: The mouth came up like that, and just grabbed the bloody thing. Because it was sitting there, you know how they sit there hunched up? Yeah, just ate the bird. Just went down with it, and never saw it again. The shark or the bird. 

CRAWFORD: It didn’t circle around you, or anything? And that was at Brig Rock? 

BRIGGS: Down at the Brig Rock, yeah. From the inside of the Brig. 

CRAWFORD: Do you have any recollection what time of year that might have been? 

BRIGGS: No. I wouldn’t have a clue. 

CRAWFORD: You were Craypotting at the time? 

BRIGGS: Yeah. But it could have been a winter trip, it could have been summer.

Copyright © 2017 Damian Briggs and Steve Crawford