Experience: Surf Life Saver, Surfer, Albatross/Penguin Centre Manager, Kaitiaki
Regions: Otago, Cook Strait, Banks Peninsula
Interview Location: Dunedin, NZ
Interview Date: 01 December 2015
Post Date: 17 May 2017; Copyright © 2017 Hoani Langsbury and Steve Crawford
3. WHITE POINTER DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE
CRAWFORD: What was the first time that you remember hearing about or seeing a White Pointer?
LANGSBURY: Probably 10 or 11.
CRAWFORD: And what would have been the context?
LANGSBURY: Context would have been around being educated as a nipper, which was a term they used for surf life savers who didn't have a surf bronze - which you got at about 13 years of age. You need to hold a surf bronze in order to do surf patrols, look after the beach, and become competitive. At Brighton Surf Life Saving Club, which I was a member of at the time, we had surf canoes, which were a four-man canoe with a rudder on the back, and there was a steel pole there with a little canister of air which held a shotgun cartridge which they use for shark control.
CRAWFORD: This would have been roughly when?
LANGSBURY: 70s, late 70s.
CRAWFORD: That would have been after a couple of significant events in this region?
LANGSBURY: Yeah, when I was at high school, I was at Bayfield High School, where there was a student who had taken the day off, had been surfing at St. Clair, and been attacked by a shark. We were also aware through surf life saving that during an event, one of the Blacks was taken during a belt race. He swam out with a belt on, and all that came back was the rope, the belt, and a shark's tooth.
CRAWFORD: And a shark's tooth?
LANGSBURY: My recollection is that there was a tooth in the belt. They were a really heavy canvas belt that went around you. It straps around here, and the idea was that you swam out, grab the patient, and then the four or six men on the beach would pull you back in.
CRAWFORD: This was a competition?
LANGSBURY: It was a surf life saving competition, yes.
CRAWFORD: Do you remember hearing any other details about the event?
LANGSBURY: No. I think it was at St. Kilda, which was the closest beach to my place, probably before I was actively involved in surf life saving. But it was something we knew of, because it was used to reinforce why we had to be vigilant when we were out on the boats, and what signals we used to identify that there was a shark, what the purpose of the shark bells were, where they were located, and those activities. The bit that is probably different from what we would do today - the intent was that you sent somebody out to kill the shark.
CRAWFORD: That was the purpose for the air canister with the shotgun shell?
LANGSBURY: The purpose of the long steel pole was to remove the risk to the humans. Where these days, the thinking may have changed. Though when you look at the international media after a shark attack, they think it's the sharks fault that they've attacked humans. There needs to be some care. I've had sharks as close as you are to me. I've certainly left the water reasonably quickly, but not held any animosity for the shark.
CRAWFORD: Were there any other details in terms of observation of the shark, or the behaviour of the shark, or the time of day, or anything like that - do you recall?
LANGSBURY: No, no. And that had only been passed on to me through various club members who had been there at the time and had observed the event. I don't think they were aware the shark was there, or the carnival would have been called off, which was normal practice by the time I became a competitor.
CRAWFORD: Did it surprise people? Or had White Pointers been seen at that beach. Do you recall what people said?
LANGSBURY: It was known that Blackhead, which is just to the south of those beaches, and to the north of Brighton - which I was a member of at the time. I did move from Brighton Surf Club to St. Clair, because it was just closer to where I lived. It was a breeding ground for White Pointers, and there was an old shark called 'Old One-Eye' that lived between White Island just off Dunedin, about here, and the beach. Regularly seen, patrolling those regions.
CRAWFORD: White Pointers were known to be around, and some had the idea that it was a site for reproduction? Was that, do you figure, coming from the old-timers?
LANGSBURY: I think it was coming from the day fishers, at both Taeiri Mouth and at Otakou. They all fished the area here, including my father. And we also knew that Blackhead was a very good left-hand point break. So even though we knew it was an area for White Pointers, we would still go there and actively surfed.
CRAWFORD: Clarification. When you say 'day fishers' what kind of fishing activities do you mean?
LANGSBURY: Trawling predominantly. But also potting, for cod and crays, along this part of the coast here.
CRAWFORD: Any setnetting?
LANGSBURY: Not really.
CRAWFORD: Coming back to reproduction, why is it that people thought the animals were here [Otago Peninsula] for reproduction?
LANGSBURY: Couldn't answer that question.
CRAWFORD: That's perfectly fine. Just that you had heard about reproduction ...
LANGSBURY: We observed at Blackhead ... we would see sharks of various sizes.
CRAWFORD: When you say sharks, potentially different kinds of sharks?
LANGSBURY: Predominantly White Pointers. When I was actively training for surf life saving, I would spend , once I left school - 16 through to 19 - maybe 8 to 10 hours a day out on the water. And I would paddle a surf ski from here, maybe 5 km up the coast this way. And the same down here, regularly you'd be seeing sharks out on the water while you're out there paddling.
CRAWFORD: So you have spent an enormous amount of time on the water, in a region which is arguably amongst the top ten places in the world, terms of reported sightings of White Pointers?
CRAWFORD: You said that there was some knowledge, I don't know if it came from the old-timers or your contemporaries, about residency. There was as shark, at the individual level, I think you talked about ... Did you have a name for it?
LANGSBURY: We referred to it as 'Old One-Eye.' It was missing an eye.
CRAWFORD: This was roughly when?
LANGSBURY: Round '79 through to mid-80s. Regularly seen. You sometimes might go for a couple of years not seeing it. But it was always round. Surf skis are probably 4 metres in length. It would be at least the length of the ski.
CRAWFORD: Male? Female?
LANGSBURY: Wouldn't know.
CRAWFORD: But very distinctive scarring?
CRAWFORD: There are probably very few White Pointers with only one eye, and there's a 50-50 chance of it being the left or right on this animal. Clearly it was being seen over and over again. Can you give me a sense of region for this?
LANGSBURY: White Island, St. Clair, St. Kilda Beach off here. There was an annual race that went around White Island, and part of that training regularly we would paddle a couple of kilometres around White Island. More often seen around the open ocean side, but it had been seen by various patrols quite close into the shore. There were a series of shark nets along this beach, it never seemed to be anywhere near there. There was a beach in here called Seconds, and Tunnel Beach - it tended to be down that way. We had seen it once when we were at Blackhead. I was probably never more than a couple of kilometres offshore, because when you're paddling as a means of transport, you didn't get too far offshore. But we used to have some confidence when we were surfing that if we were inside where the waves were breaking, that if we saw a shark, the sharks were never going to come into that whitewater because they can't breathe because of all of the oxygen is stirred up by the waves breaking. And you could get in to shore very quickly from there.
CRAWFORD: I haven't heard anybody mention this before. The knowledge was ... and was this old-timers or contemporaries that were saying this?
LANGSBURY: I'm not sure where we got it from. It was probably just that false confidence we had, that if a shark came into the waves, it couldn't breathe properly. A one or two metre swell, a decent amount of wave breaking there, most of that whitewater being air.
CRAWFORD: Is it consistent with your observations, and the observations of your contemporaries, that White Pointers in this region did not seem to be in the region where the waves were breaking?
LANGSBURY: No, you didn't. You didn't see them there. When a wave's forming, the swell, and then you've got the point at which the swell tips over and becomes the energy force you use when you're surfing. You never saw them inside that.
CRAWFORD: It was always outside when you saw them?
LANGSBURY: Always outside.
CRAWFORD: That's an important observation. Not just yours, but also your mates?
CRAWFORD: There was this sense that, regardless what the mechanism was, for whatever reason, when you saw White Pointers it was on the outside of the break zone?
CRAWFORD: I know that changes with the points, and the general morphology of the coastline, but roughly how far offshore is that along this coastline?
LANGSBURY: Changes depending on the size of the swell, and the beach form at any particular time, but probably on average 50 to 100 metres offshore.
CRAWFORD: St. Clair St. Kilda ... on the Peninsula?
LANGSBURY: All similar sorts of beaches, mostly sand breaks, beach breaks. The beach form at Blackhead was a lot steeper, it was a gravel beach, so your waves broke a lot closer in. You would always sit on your board, you'd always be looking out to sea for the next swell to come. And you always saw the shark probably 20 or 30 metres out to sea. Rarely did you see the sharks coming in from the sides, where at St. Kilda or St. Clair you would occasionally see them coming in from the side. But at Blackhead they tended to be coming in from the sea towards you.
CRAWFORD: With regards to the two attacks that you mentioned, did you hear anything about them being inside or outside the break zone? Would a swimmer in a surf life saving competition have gone beyond that zone?
LANGSBURY: Yeah. The buoys had to be set outside the breaking waves, or they got dragged in. You always knew in competing that you were going out beyond the breakers.
CRAWFORD: For the other attack, did you have any knowledge about where - relative to the break zone - it was?
LANGSBURY: I think it was right on the edge of the break zone. He was surfing there, I think it was the fellow from Bayfield High School.
CRAWFORD: Let's go back to that event. What did you hear, or what was generally known, about the attack on the surfer?
LANGSBURY: Probably knew less about that because it wasn't observed at the same level. I believe there were a couple of people on the hill of the beach, observing what was going on in the competition. Kid had taken the day off school, gone surfing at St. Clair, got caught - that was really all we knew about it.
CRAWFORD: Nothing else by way of clear memory about the event, observations or patterns or incident characteristics?
CRAWFORD: Ok. Let's focus on Otago Harbour. Did you ever see, you personally, any White Pointers inside the harbour?
CRAWFORD: Did the old-timers ever talk about White Pointers in the harbour?
LANGSBURY: No. They talked about sharks in general, and sharks tended to be a beachcast resource. Some event would cause a shark to die or get stranded on the beach, at which point the oil would be harvested from it.
CRAWFORD: In that context, do you recall the old-timers ever saying that there were beachcast events with White Pointers in the harbour?
CRAWFORD: Did your contemporaries ever see or hear about White Pointers in the harbour?
CRAWFORD: Do you think of Otago Harbour as a place where White Pointers don't go?
LANGSBURY: We did harbour swimming events, so marathon races in the harbour, and we had confidence that there weren't sharks of that size in the harbour. And in more contemporary times, off Harrington Point in this area here, that there are sharks around there. So I've been out there ... not White Pointers, other sharks that come into the harbour. But not necessarily White Pointers.
CRAWFORD: Were you aware of the White Pointer fishery out of Carey's Bay, back in the day? The Lewisess and the Atkinsons deploying baited hooks on barrels?
CRAWFORD: Outside of the harbour then, realizing that there have been some significant changes to the environment, specifically that breakwall ... do you know when that breakwall went in?
LANGSBURY: I think it was 1860, somewhere around there.
CRAWFORD: For at least three generations, it's been there in one form or another?
CRAWFORD: From Cape Saunders north to the mouth of Otago Harbour, did you know of any White Pointers in that region?
LANGSBURY: No. I also wouldn't have spent a large amount of time in that area there. A little bit of time at Pipikaretu Point, and not observed them there either. But it wasn't necessarily looking as you would if you were down on the water yourself.
CRAWFORD: No, you have a high vantage point. But there are a bunch of other things that you're looking at. Although you spent time in the land here, it's not an area you were considered to have a great deal of observation history?
LANGSBURY: No. But I think because I manage the Royal Albatross Centre, where we have an observation area at the top of the headland that's occupied for ... at the moment from 12 lunchtime to 8 PM, and they have observed Orca coming into the harbour, those sorts of things. A White Pointer coming into the harbour would also be observed by the same guides that are up there. And they haven't made any comment of it, as they have made comment on return of the whales to the harbour, which we're pretty sure are hunting the fur Seals returning to the area. They're seeing other large mammals in the harbour. My thinking in the last three or four years is that there is not a large amount of them through that area.
CRAWFORD: That's extremely important, because you've got an active observation centre ...
LANGSBURY: This is in a particular location. The target species is albatross, but when you're up there, it's a good vantage point. You can see the entire harbour across to the mole. And you're looking out for other species to point out to the visitors.
CRAWFORD: That's the point - eyes are on the water. If there was a dorsal fin breaking the surface, it would attract attention. Historically, are those observations [from the observation area] jotted down?
LANGSBURY: They are. We have a system where we pass along information to the Department of Conservation. And we share knowledge with the Monarch wildlife cruises. Neil Harraway, whose tours operate in this sort of area out here, they sometimes look around here, about a kilometre off the coast, they would be another source of regular observations on the water. Up here at the observatory, we have one guide up there, but there's actually 10 pairs of eyes as well. Someone would say what's that? Everyone would grab the binoculars, and attempt to identify it. And that's been that way since, as I said earlier, about 47 years. And in a better location over the last 25 years than it had been previously.
CRAWFORD: if I was interested in going after that particular time series of observations, just looking for presence absence to see even if there was a rare observation of a shark, where would I go for that?
LANGSBURY: I would think in this instance the person would be Lyndon Perriman who's the Head Ranger for DOC [Department of Conservation] out there. They would have been more likely to log that and keep the observation than the Royal Albatross Centre
CRAWFORD: That's excellent, thank you. Basically then, we've divided that region of the Otago Peninsula into a separate category. Now I would like to talk about the mouth of the harbour, due north. Have you ever seen any White Pointers in that region?
LANGSBURY: No. But we were aware of sharks up at Harrington Point.
CRAWFORD: How much time did you spend at Harrington, relative to your time on the other side of the peninsula?
LANGSBURY: Maybe seven days a year.
CRAWFORD: So relatively infrequent, in comparison to St. Clair and St Kilda. In that context though, you did not see any White Pointers. What about the old-timers? Did the old-timers talk about White Pointers in that region?
LANGSBURY: They did talk about sharks being in that area through here [Harrington Point], as did probably more the people of Karitane towards Huriawa. What we understood happened in this area here, Warrington, because that's where we did our surf competitions.
CRAWFORD: Blueskin Bay?
LANGSBURY: Yes. There were large pods of Dolphins in there. Where there were pods of Dolphins, there were no White Pointers.
CRAWFORD: Was that old-timers' common knowledge?
LANGSBURY: It was sort of contemporary common knowledge for me, as a child. We always felt more comfortable, if we were in the water, and there were Dolphins playing near the surf where we were. They would protect us by having to protect themselves, and bottlenoses punching the sharks in their gills or around the head area.
CRAWFORD: Have you ever seen that happen?
LANGSBURY: Never saw it happen, no.
CRAWFORD: But it was common knowledge?
LANGSBURY: Common knowledge, yeah. That was passed through the surf life saving community. We kind of knew, when we were out there; we'd had a [surf life saving club] briefing before about what the day was going to be like, what the swells were doing, anything that was likely to be seen out there. A lot of the surf life savers also took their own boats if we were at Warrington, because we could launch off the beach. They would go out there chasing fish, and let us know if they saw sharks further out. I can't recall ever having seen anything off there.
CRAWFORD: In terms of the distribution of the Dolphins, were they seen in this region North of the Otago Harbour, more than South of the peninsula?
CRAWFORD: Or were they relatively rare, wherever?
LANGSBURY: They were regularly seen, so it wouldn't be unusual to be on your second time there to see them. I just had a thought that probably at least on a fortnightly basis I would spend a couple of days in the area called Whareakeake or Murderer's Beach. This happens to be the best right hand beach break in New Zealand. In there I would have spent, regularly a whole day if it was working. And never saw sharks there ever.
CRAWFORD: My understanding is that bay was always intensively surfed.
LANGSBURY: it was. If you turned up there late, there would be at least a dozen surfers in the water. It was a long break - you could get two sets breaking at the same time along that point, it was such a long point. There used to be a rock called Halfway Rock that you would keep an eye out for, and then the rest of the bay was almost dead calm. So you would think if there were sharks moving around, that would be the logical place for them to be. And we never saw them out there.
CRAWFORD: Right adjacent to an area that was frequented by pods of Dolphins?
CRAWFORD: Dolphins associated by swimmers and surfers, that they would add a level of protection or security, peace of mind at the very least, because if there was a shark around, the Dolphins would attack?
LANGSBURY: That's right. And they're more likely to know if sharks are there then you.
CRAWFORD: What, if anything, do you know about conditions at Curio Bay?
LANGSBURY: Not much. I know more about Oreti, from when I was doing competitions there.
CRAWFORD: Ok, tell me what you know about Oreti.
LANGSBURY: I think it was around the time I was about 14 or 15, there were a few sharks seen around there. I'm not sure if it was the local Council in Southland or whoever, put up a small plane that used to spot for sharks in Foveaux Strait off Oreti Beach. They were seeing 20 to 30 sharks a day, and no one was using the beach, so they took the plane out.
CRAWFORD: How did you know about that? Was that just word-of-mouth again?
LANGSBURY: No, no. We would always have one surf life saving event down there annually, so it would be on the rotation. And we would've heard about it, and my brother was living there at the time - I think he might have been a member of Oreti [Surf Life Saving Club] when they had this initiative in place, because they were having lots of beach closures from the surf life savers who were there observing sharks in that area. So, someone in their wisdom put a plane up and realized that the sharks are actually there all the time, and there are lots of them. I think it was round about the time of 'Jaws' or just after, so were talking late '70s early '80s.
CRAWFORD: What about sharks attacks or incidences at Oreti? Any knowledge of interactions of that kind?
LANGSBURY: No, no. Other than this is one of the things that sits in the back of mind, and I kind of understand the logic of it. Because you know, there was certainly a reduction in the number of people that would go to the beaches after the movie came out.
CRAWFORD: If I asked you to, in a very crude sense, estimate how much of a reduction of this noticeable drop off, if you had to guess, what would you guess would it be?
LANGSBURY: it would have halved.
CRAWFORD: Did it ever cause you to think differently about if you went out on the water, or when you went out, or anything like that?
LANGSBURY: Probably only for a week or two. And then your confidence comes back.
CRAWFORD: After you saw that movie, it shook you up for a couple of weeks, and then back out you go?
LANGSBURY: Yeah, but when you spend that amount of time on the water like I did, you kind of see what was real and what wasn't. We had seen White Pointers in real life, 10 m away. And you can kind of tell the difference between what was portrayed in the movie, and what we saw in everyday life on a somewhat regular basis.
CRAWFORD: Were there ever any pieces of guidance, from the old-timers especially, about places to avoid or times or specific conditions?
LANGSBURY: Yeah, but we didn't listen to them. Because often that was the best time, a couple of hours before sunset, or early morning. That sharks likely would have been more active in the feeding times, those sorts of things. And there was the suggestion you should avoid those times, but if it was the time that the tide was in the right place ... Sometimes we would surf in the dark, with lights on if it was required.
LANGSBURY: Yeah. It happened a few times.
LANGSBURY: St. Clair. Before they got the rock walls, and those sorts of things. And the beach disappeared. You could park cars up there, lots of them.
CRAWFORD: That's the first I've heard of this.
LANGSBURY: As youth we gave anything a go. It probably didn't happen that frequently, but it was normal for you to be out there until the sun was down. You couldn't see the water, you were just kind of out there in the black. And then you would head in.
CRAWFORD: Times of day, a general kind of consciousness and warnings that your generation disregarded. Were there any other types of cautions?
LANGSBURY: Yeah, Lawyer's Head. That was where the sewage used to go out. Lawyer's Head was right here, so the sewage treatment plant was right here. They used to pump sewage, and it used to go off through outfall at the end of the cliff. That now goes out about one and a half kilometres offshore. There was some belief you didn't surf around there, because of more marine activity. But if the surf conditions were good, you kind of ignored what people were saying because you're a teenager, and you're invincible.
CRAWFORD: But it wasn't just to avoid the outflow, because of lack of hygiene. It was also to avoid the outflow, because of what you said - increased marine activity?
CRAWFORD: Did anybody talk about sharks specifically?
LANGSBURY: Yeah there were sharks. I think it was because ... Well there's this Lawyer's Head lookout, a really high place, lots of people looking out seeing sharks. Whereas if you're on the water, we kind of knew they were there all the time. And at the back of your mind you just pretended that they didn't, so you just carried on living together with respect. And that's about the same time as that story about the spotter plane from Southland District Council. The sharks are out there all the time, and when you tell people there are out there, they step going. So we kind of knew they were there all the time, and you would see them on a semi-regular basis. You just didn't stay in the water with them.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever notice a higher number of White Pointers in that region near the sewage outflow?
LANGSBURY: Only a couple of times, just to the north of there at Smaill's Beach. You would kind of know where the smell was coming from, what way the plume would be going, because you could tell when you go near the water if the current was going the wrong way and then you wouldn't go out. There are some self-limiting factors. Smaill’s was just to the north of Lawyer's Head. So just past Tomahawk, then you go down the next road, it goes up to Centre Road and there's a little island out there, and a breach break.
CRAWFORD: Historically, are you aware of any other types of organic outflow in the Otago Peninsula region? Other than the municipal sewage site that you described?
LANGSBURY: Yeah, inside the harbour. There was a rendering plant there for leather around Sawyer's Bay.
CRAWFORD: A rendering plant there with discharge?
LANGSBURY: Yep. Discharge right into the harbour.
CRAWFORD: What about fish processing plants?
LANGSBURY: There was one at Sawyer's Bay. There was one up here in the harbour, there were several of them up here. Also off Taiaroa Head, Otakou Fisheries did all their processing here at Ohinetu Point. But they would take their guts and waste up to Taiaroa Head, and pour it off the cliff in this area here.
CRAWFORD: That's what, roughly 50 metres, 100 metres high?
CRAWFORD: When did that shut down?
LANGSBURY: I would have thought the '70s? Maybe a bit earlier.
CRAWFORD: The Dunedin fish processing plant, where were they taking their waste?
LANGSBURY: As far as I know, it was just washing out into the harbour.
CRAWFORD: Really? Just straight out?
CRAWFORD: And then relying on tidal flush or something? There's not that much flushing there ...
LANGSBURY: Yeah, it's about four days that it takes to flush out to the end of the harbour. They used to shuck oysters and those sorts of things in here; there were millions of Bluff oysters all through this area here [Vauxhall] but not enough food for them to grow. There were locals that harvested them here and brought them up to Otakou, and hang them off the wharf there and grow.
CRAWFORD: Any other type of organic waste outflow other than the municipal sewage along the coastal shoreline?
LANGSBURY: Yeah, another one at Green Island, there was an outflow at Green Island, it was probably only a kilometre offshore ...
CRAWFORD: Was that fish processing?
LANGSBURY: No, that was normal waste. But a lot of stuff from the processing plants through Kaikorai Valley. There are still lots of meat processing plants there; all discharge went out either into the estuary Kaikorai Stream, because that's where the main freezing works were at Green Island. Some of it went to the Green Island plant, it kind of got treated, probably just went into holding ponds for a short period of time, and a little bit of oxidation before it went out to sea. Certainly that plant is upgraded now. The big freezer works isn't there, what used to be the DMBA [Dunedin Master Butchers Association] - it is still there. I was a labourer there - that's how I could afford to spend the rest of the day surfing. Because I worked two or three hours in the morning, processing sheep for the local butchers. All that waste would have gone to the municipal plant, or would've gone into the Silver Stream and out naturally.
CRAWFORD: Was there any type of general effect perceived by people about the outflow of these various organic discharges, specifically effects on either the distribution or the behaviour of the White Pointers?
LANGSBURY: There would've been sharks there. It's the same as dogs urinating - that would bring sharks in.
CRAWFORD: That is the first I've heard of that idea as well. Was that from your early days, your teen days, later days?
LANGSBURY: Teen days. Those were some of the reasons for not allowing dogs on the beach at that time; they didn't want to have dogs out there swimming about - that would bring sharks in. Never saw anything like it happen. But it was just one of those other pieces of knowledge that you kind of had.
CRAWFORD: With regards to the outflow, municipal or freezer works or otherwise - if it was organic, then it would attract sharks in general?
LANGSBURY: Yeah, sharks in general.
CRAWFORD: Including White Pointers specifically?
LANGSBURY: Sharks in general. But we always felt White Pointers specifically, given that we had a resident population right off the Dunedin Beaches.
CRAWFORD: Ok, let's dig into that one. How would you, old-timers or your contemporaries, how would you know that there was a resident population?
LANGSBURY: Regularly seeing them at locations over an annual basis; not being transient, not passing through.
CRAWFORD: Let's consider the southeastern shoreline of New Zealand’s South Island. Would it be fair to say that the Otago Peninsula in general is a local hotspot for White Pointers? Not seeing so many to the north, or to the south of that peninsula?
LANGSBURY: We certainly had that perception, that you were more likely to see them here than at some of the other beaches. I did quite a bit of surfing at Kuri Bush and those sorts of places, as you go south. Didn't think of White Pointers as much as when we were in this area around here.
CRAWFORD: So, at least the perception was the Otago Peninsula was a hotspot. Where does the hotspot really start? Does it start around Green Island, or a little bit further south here, Taieri Mouth?
LANGSBURY: I would have thought somewhere between Taieri Mouth and Green Island, was kind of where we thought. It starts there.
CRAWFORD: And does it pick up around the peninsula? Is it highest at St. Clair-St Kilda, or north from there?
LANGSBURY: You were more likely to see them if you were training down toward Tunnel Beach to the south of St. Clair, through about as far as Blackhead. We thought this was kind of like their range. Could have only been the range for just one shark, and we were seeing the same one, because we really had no way of identifying whether you are seeing the same shark every time - except for Old One-Eye.
CRAWFORD: We’ll get back to that, since it's related to what it means for a shark to be resident. But there were definitely some hotspots along the shoreline here, and then less frequently in waters outside of the peninsula?
LANGSBURY: I would've thought down here [Otago Peninsula], there was a higher frequency then Blueskin Bay or Karitane.
CRAWFORD: Now let's talk about residency. And let's deal specifically with Old One-Eye to begin with. When you’ve got that type of distinguishing feature, then that animal is likely to be 'that animal.' Was there any type of change within the season, in terms of the abundance where the animals were less common during some seasons, or more common during other seasons?
LANGSBURY: We probably couldn't tell that. We would have spent more time training out there in the summer, and winter we probably didn't do a lot of surf life saving training, but just surfing. Two different activities.
CRAWFORD: And two different intensity periods. Keeping that in mind, that you were spending more time doing certain things during certain periods - was there any indication that, in general, the number of sharks seen per unit of time was that pretty much consistent through the year, or were there some seasonal pulses?
LANGSBURY: I would have thought that frequency was reasonably well correlated with more sightings. Working that backwards, they were probably there the same amount of time.
CRAWFORD: Back in the day, did you see White Pointers in the winter around the Otago Peninsula?
LANGSBURY: Yes, I would've thought so. But to put that in context, probably four hours on the water in a day in the winter, as opposed to 8 to 10 in the summer. But you're still actively looking out there; you never change the thought in the back of your mind. "Ah, it's winter, the sharks aren't around." You are always vigilant, the whole time you are out there
CRAWFORD: The old timers, your contemporaries, that was a commonly held thought? There is no time off in this region?
CRAWFORD: Any other reasons for thinking that the White Pointers in the Otago Peninsula region … that this was a resident, rather than a migratory population?
LANGSBURY: I think learning from your peers, as well as through observation. The first summer when I left school at 16 - might've been around ’89 - I was a professional lifeguard at St. Clair, so I spent five days a week, eight hours a day, sitting up at the club rooms looking out to sea. Usually there were two of us, one of us was normally on shark patrol really the whole time. Spending your time focusing on the water around the buoys, looking for sharks. They wouldn't have had us doing that unless there was a potential for the sharks to be coming into that area.
CRAWFORD: Yes, but specifically with regard to residency - are there any other types of knowledge that I should be trying to find?
LANGSBURY: Teone Taiaroa and Matenga Taiaroa who I talked about, who used to hold the license for the shark nets off St. Kilda, St. Clair. They used to see more sharks out there swimming. It is my understanding, when they pulled out their nets. They couldn't put the nets where the rips [currents] were, because the sharks were coming through the rips. You kind of knew when you are out on the water, how the sharks moved around the environment, and you had a rough idea of where you should be looking for them. They wouldn't be swimming with the current, for the same reason we thought they can't breathe if the water is moving along at the same speed they are. They have to have water moving through their gills to get the oxygen out of the water that they need. So, we always understood that they would swim into the beach against the current where the water is going back out - where the rips were. And the fishermen could not put the shark nets in those rips. We also understood that all the sharks that were ever caught in those nets, were always on the inside of the net, not on the outside. They caught the sharks as they were leaving the beach, not when they were coming in.
CRAWFORD: What was your knowledge of Dunedin's shark netting program?
LANGSBURY: I was aware that it was having no impact, and it was for the sake of the psychological benefit of the public who felt safer because there were shark nets.
CRAWFORD: Who triggered the shark netting program? When did it start?
LANGSBURY: Couldn't be sure.
CRAWFORD: Were you an active member of the surf life saving community when they started?
LANGSBURY: I would have thought we were, yeah but we would have been at Brighton which I don't think got shark nets. They only got them on the beaches in town. And we were always taught that there were more sharks here in town than at Brighton.
CRAWFORD: Really? And that was general knowledge at the Brighton club, in terms of incidences and observations, whatever?
CRAWFORD: And what was your perspective with regard to the DCC [Dunedin City Council] nets?
LANGSBURY: I can recall having a bit of a discussion around it, because I thought Brighton would actually be an easier beach to close off, because it's quite a narrow neck going into Brighton Beach. Why wouldn't you just run a shark net across there? That was a bit simplistic, as I was only 14 or 15 at the time, thinking “Well, why wouldn't you just close off the entire bay?” That was how I found out about rips and all those sorts of things; that if they tried to put the shark nets in the rips, they just kept getting sucked out to sea, they couldn't anchor them there because the rips were so strong. The problem was that at Brighton there was a little gut that the water sometimes came in, and sometimes went out, which meant that there was always a force sort of tearing the nets away.
CRAWFORD: What about the DCC’s motivation for these shark nets?
LANGSBURY: It was to make the public feel safe, and for them to use the beaches.
CRAWFORD: You thought it was more of a public relations effort?
CRAWFORD: Did you think that was a good idea or a bad idea or what?
LANGSBURY: I probably didn't have an opinion, because I wasn't engaged in the process directly. I was probably more looking internally. It wasn't affecting what I was doing. And we were eating shark at the time. The shark that was coming out of those nets was turning up at the fish and chips shop full of mercury, and we were eating. It all changed about the same time as the shark netting was no longer kept because it was no longer viable, or sustainable financially - because they couldn't actually sell the sharks that were in the nets, to the local fish and chip shop. There was a point at which shark was no longer served in fish and chip shops, prior to that it was a common fish for us to be eating.
CRAWFORD: Why was shark no longer served?
LANGSBURY: Because of the high mercury content.
CRAWFORD: Because shark was an apex predator, and the associated effects of bio-magnification?
LANGSBURY: Yes. I'd be surprised if there was a fish and chip shop that served shark anymore. We all eat Hoki and Roughy all these other species. It was probably not economically viable for the Council to subsidize having nets there without the fisherman making some money from the bycatch.
CRAWFORD: But you were swimming and surfing at these beaches, with these nets there. What is your understanding of the operation that these nets were of no use or effect at all?
LANGSBURY: Yeah. When Teone would come back in his boat, I would've been at least 17 or 18, I would paddle out to the boat on a surf ski and grab some fish off him, have a chat to him for about 1/2 an hour while he was putting the nets away. And we would talk about what he was doing, and why whatever was in his nets was on the inside. He had a good understanding that the shark nets were not serving a purpose at all. Still with the knowledge of that, it didn't change my behaviour. And that is what I'm passing on to my children now. I'm not sure if I'm giving them false confidence at all by saying "Just stay in the whitewater, and stay close, and you're not to have to worry about the sharks. But always be vigilant, and keep an eye on what's going on around you."
CRAWFORD: You're basically sharing with your kids, and that's a test of the best advice that you have for your own kids. What you drew from the best of your own experience?
LANGSBURY: Yeah, but they make progress going out further than the breakwater, at which point once they got out behind where the waves are breaking, they would be out there with the sharks. And I told him about the sort of observations they need to be making.
CRAWFORD: [Discussion about Project classification Level 1-4 human encounters with White Pointers] Was it more being aware of a Level 2 shark interaction and greater possibilities?
LANGSBURY: The next stage, yes. When you get out there, you’re not spending the whole time looking out for waves. You're also keeping an eye on what else is going on around you. With the confidence that the White Pointers swim in to shore mostly on the surface.
CRAWFORD: And that, when you see a shark, you come in?
LANGSBURY: Yeah, that's right.
CRAWFORD: You've already talked about these things, based on your own experience. And that's the type of stuff that makes it over the generations, and that makes it ‘traditional knowledge’ in the most general sense. If somebody like me interviews your kids 40 years down the road, you are the old-timer, you're the previous generation.
LANGSBURY: But it's no different than turning up at a beach you don't know, and spending at least 10 or 15 minutes sitting on the high point, understanding where the rips are, and all those sorts of things. And observing. You don't notice that you're doing it. What other things are going on in the environment while you're there watching.
CRAWFORD: I suspect you also spend time talking to people there who know the place?
LANGSBURY: Yeah. I used to surf at a place called Orepuki down in Foveaux Strait [Te Waewae Bay], which is one of the better lefts in the South Island. And there was always this perfect right-hander, right in the middle of the bay. No one ever surfed it. I never knew, until I went out and surfed it one day myself, because I had been watching it for - I don't know - a week. That it had a really horrendous undertow. When you fell off, and got sucked down, you got held down for a couple of minutes, until you popped up; because where the river came out, and it flowed through there, there was this horrendous undertow that just held you down. The locals knew that, but I never encountered a local while I was there. That's how you learn - if you see something, you talk to them. And that's the same for all the other species. If there were other things going on there, you would pass that on. People these days who ask me about Blackhead, I say “The likelihood of encountering sharks out there is quite high, so just keep an eye out for them.” Because it's in your perception. It's your learned knowledge; it's kind of engrained.
CRAWFORD: What do you know of any other types of attacks, or incidences, north of Otago Peninsula. Specifically, do you know about the Aramoana attack?
LANGSBURY: Not really, no.
CRAWFORD: I suspect it may have happened during one of those periods while you were away.
CRAWFORD: Let's shift to White Pointer reproduction for a bit. Among the old-timers or your contemporaries, was the idea that this group of White Pointers at Otago Peninsula engaged in reproduction?
CRAWFORD: Why would they think that? Was there anything that the animals did that made you think that?
LANGSBURY: I don't know why we thought that. It probably comes back to common knowledge. But we had that sense because we would see sharks in different size classes.
CRAWFORD: Tell me about that pattern, please.
LANGSBURY: That would be around Blackhead. We would see different sizes of sharks.
CRAWFORD: What would you see, in what kind of sequence?
LANGSBURY: There was probably no sequence that we observed. But we were used to seeing White Pointers, kind of 3 metres and above. You would see something that looked like a White Pointer, all the right sort of features, maybe only less than a couple of metres, which you would assume would be a juvenile.
CRAWFORD: And whereabouts did you see these smaller sharks?
CRAWFORD: And only Blackhead?
LANGSBURY: I can't recall seeing any other small White Pointers anywhere else. There were certainly other times we saw fins, but not enough to identify what it was.
CRAWFORD: In terms of the larger animals, was there ever any pattern about where the large ones were or were not?
LANGSBURY: I can only recall a couple of times, because Blackhead is quite good, you've got to climb a cliff, and you can then look down. And you see the sharks milling around, after you got out of the water. You would go up and then look back down and see what was going on. There would be more than one in the water, and different sizes.
CRAWFORD: But no other spatial patterns that you remember?
CRAWFORD: What about the Seal colonies? I know they have changed through time, but back in the day where were the majority of Seals?
LANGSBURY: I can't recall a large number of marine mammals being around the coast. But there were Seals out there, through that area, the rocky areas of Blackhead.
CRAWFORD: What about up at the top end of the Otago Peninsula? The northeastern side?
LANGSBURY: No significant amounts back then. But now we’re probably up to about 500.
CRAWFORD: When did that increase start, to your recollection?
LANGSBURY: It had probably already started when I returned home in 99. We already had a sea Sea Lion population starting to establish itself, prior to my return.
CRAWFORD: Where do sea Sea Lions hang out?
LANGSBURY: At Victory Beach. They pup anywhere along the coast … I think they have pups as far south as Kaka Point. And they bring their pups all the way up to here. They have their nursery in the pine forest here.
CRAWFORD: What about further north?
LANGSBURY: No. It's the only breeding population of New Zealand Sea Lions on the mainland. There's been the odd one that popped up further north, but they tend have been showing up along here. We've had several pup in the last few years along these beaches along here, but ultimately they all end up here. Lots of Fur Seals around through these points. The fishermen that go down to Cape Saunders, that fish off the rock shelves down there, anecdotally say that they’ve been increasing.
CRAWFORD: The Seals have been increasing?
CRAWFORD: Increasing for the last decade or so?
LANGSBURY: Yeah, at least.
CRAWFORD: With regard to the Seals, are we on the order of approximately hundreds?
CRAWFORD: With regard to the sea Sea Lions, we're on the order of what?
LANGSBURY: Tens. Lots of males, so I guess they’re running out of sub-Antarctic Islands. But it's unusual for females to be seen unless they are descendants of … I think there's been one that was an untagged female turned up down here. Very actively researched. Chris Lalas or someone like that would have lots of knowledge on those.
CRAWFORD: To your knowledge did anybody ever see, in the Otago Peninsula region, any White Pointer-Seal interactions?
CRAWFORD: Any indirect evidence, in terms of carcasses, scarring or marks?
LANGSBURY: Yeah, and not just Fur Seals. A couple of whale species recently that had turned up with shark bites. One that we don't think was the cause of death though, probably.
CRAWFORD: Were these beachcast or floating carcasses?
LANGSBURY: Predominantly beachcast, so Jim Fyfe [Coastal Otago Ranger, DOC] would be the one to talk to about those.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Was there any type of shark-whale interaction associated with those incidences?
LANGSBURY: These strandings were talking about, were dead whales washing up on the beach, not groups of live whales stranding on the beach and then being re-floated. They were already dead. Potentially they had been chewed on while they were out at sea, eventually ending up on land.
CRAWFORD: but no kind of fresh interactions between live whales and White Pointers?
CRAWFORD: What about scarring and wounds?
CRAWFORD: Typically where?
LANGSBURY: Throughout the coastal takiwā. Most of the stories that I heard as part of the coastal takiwā inventory went from Hayward's Point which is the northern part of our takiwā, and covered this area here [Otago Peninsula]. We talked to a few fishermen out of Green Island, covered that till Kuri Bush south. Predominately through this area here, was what they were referring to.
CRAWFORD: in terms of White Pointer-Sea Lion interactions, any recollections about that?
CRAWFORD: Any indirect evidence?
LANGSBURY: No, not that I'm aware of.
CRAWFORD: So, Seals, yes; Sea Lions, no?
LANGSBURY: Completely two separate classes. A couple hundred kilos, compared to 400 kilos.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever see any White Pointers during the time you spent up north?
LANGSBURY: No, not that I can recall.
CRAWFORD: did you ever hear about any White Pointers up around the Banks Peninsula?
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear about White Pointers when you were up in Wellington?
LANGSBURY: No. We kind of associated them with the colder water temperature, and the more rugged climate that's down here.
CRAWFORD: Why do you figure?
LANGSBURY: Don't know. These days, I've got reasons, because I have some Western science in my head that tells me.
CRAWFORD: But you are always the sum of your parts, so tell me what you think from the Western science side of you.
LANGSBURY: From that side, we have a current that comes around from Australia; the Australian Current comes through Bass Strait, across the Tasman through Foveaux Strait, up the east coast of the South Island where we call it the Southland Current. And then the eastern current comes up here, turns off to the Chatham's, it heads out there full of phytoplankton, nutrients. Probably the driver of the marine ecosystem off the east coast of the South Island. One of the unique things that we've identified at the Penguin colony is that all but one of the Penguins in that colony are actually Fairy Penguins from Australia. There's a slight genetic difference in their DNA, between the New Zealand Little Penguins in the Australian Little Penguins. They potentially got on that current. This peninsula sticks maybe 30 km out into the sea, so it gets quite close to that current. We think it's probably running 17 to 25 km offshore at any one time, depending on time of year and El Niño and all those sorts of things that move the current around. Those Little Blues are going out there at the bottom of the food chain, doing really well, coming in well fed, they are looking for small shoaling fish, squid, that kind of size - 6 to 10 cm. Something they could easily regurgitate to their chicks. What they are also encountering out there, is the next size class of fish out from there, sharks, Orcas, Leopard Seals, all out foraging in that same current.
CRAWFORD: Then would it be fair to say that the Otago Peninsula and the associated currents jointly constitute an ecological hotspot?
LANGSBURY: The next major peninsula that's further up is Banks Peninsula. The current doesn't really come anywhere near Banks Peninsula as it does to the Otago Peninsula. By the time it gets here, it's already turning and heading out to the Chatham Islands. if the sharks were feeding in this current, then it would be logical that they would go across them to the Chatham Islands. I'm not sure if there are records of them on the Chatham Islands.
CRAWFORD: Yes, and the Chatham's to this day are a very active part of the story when you consider White Pointer-human interactions. There is still a high degree of uncertainty about the relationship between the animals there, and the animals at Stewart Island, and the animals here at the Otago Peninsula. And the possibility of migration corridors between them. But corridors that the animals don't necessarily use. Just because a corridor is there, doesn't mean you have to use it. Maybe you go every third or fifth year, if you go at all.
LANGSBURY: How much support do the White Pointers give to their young? Are they around with them for years?
CRAWFORD: Well, it's interesting you should mention that. The social structure of these animals is highly uncertain. Many scientists think there is no parental care, but based on what I'm hearing from local experts I'm not so sure.
LANGSBURY: You know, I was just thinking - Albatross we know they breed every second year, because they only spend the year looking after their offspring, and then they have to go and recover. Do White Pointers do the same thing? Do they only breed in cycles of every fourth or fifth year?
CRAWFORD: Based on what you have seen, and the old-timers and your contemporaries, do you have reason to believe that White Pointers are social in nature? As opposed to being these apex, rogue predators as they are often portrayed? Have you seen them engage in any type of inter-individual or coordinated behaviour. I mean, obviously social behaviour includes reproduction, they have to be social enough to at least reproduce. But in terms of, other times of the year, other kind of pairings of fish, did you ever see White Pointers swimming together?
LANGSBURY: No, not that I can recall. I can't think of anything that makes me think that they operate like a pod, or group, or any interaction like that. But Little Blue Penguins spend all their day out at sea by themselves, yet when they get within a couple of kilometres of the coast they pair up and start forming larger rafts. Not necessarily for social reasons, but it allows some of them to get a sleep in, so it's a protection mechanism against marine mammals. How do we know that when the sharks aren't here, they don't spend large amounts of their time as individuals, and then there's certain times or certain activities when they come together?
CRAWFORD: On top of everything, is the idea that they could be there in social aggregations, but at a scale that we just don't perceive because we happen to be out on the surface of the water on a boat.
CRAWFORD: Ok, but nothing in your direct experience, or the people you knew, about social behaviour of White Pointers in this region?
LANGSBURY: No, but to me, that doesn't necessarily mean that it doesn't happen. It just means maybe it doesn't happen in the area of observation that I've had.
CRAWFORD: Right. Getting back to the Otago Peninsula, why do you think proximity to the shoreline is important?
LANGSBURY: The sharks are more likely to be foraging in that current there, and opportunistically coming closer to the coast, depending on water temperature.
CRAWFORD: So it's possible that the perceived aggregation of White Pointers along the Otago Peninsula is actually driven by an offshore event, and that some of the interactions are secondary to that?
CRAWFORD: That the sharks might actually be feeding off other things, and it doesn't mean it's not marine mammals; but there's a very rich fish assemblage out there and the White Pointers could be feeding as much or more on offshore fish. But that needs to be reconciled with this idea of residency which could actually be thought of in a broader sense to be the entire region not just the nearshore coastal waters.
CRAWFORD: You know, the animals could spend two weeks here nearshore, go for a week offshore, come back in - and still be considered residents of the broader region?
LANGSBURY: That's right. My thinking - and this is based in part on Old One-Eye, over a ten-year period, seeing him occasionally every few years, makes you think that he is a resident. That he has a territory, and he's hanging out in that similar location. You've got this current that's moving up along here, you would think that he would be moving with the current, and occasionally reappearing along the coast.
CRAWFORD: That brings up the whole possibility of migratory behaviour, and migrations on an annual or semi-annual basis. Do you know anything about migrations of White Pointers?
LANGSBURY: That's not an area that I have looked into, except for the fact that we think Blackhead down here, the times we used to see him off here - I'm just thinking of the 'alpha male' kind of thing. He's the biggest White Pointer that we ever talked about within the local surfing community.
CRAWFORD: Old One-Eye was the largest White Pointer here?
CRAWFORD: But getting back to this ecological hotspot …
LANGSBURY: So, what happens out here, in June/July of this year, we had our Penguin numbers drop to single digits where we were then counting them in the 40s to 50s for a whole six-week period. We know from the Pilots based at Bluff, who measured their temperature out there, the temperature of this current dropped by 2 to 3° over a two-week period. Well, that actually meant that the environment, it was a lot healthier with more upwellings, it was actually running better than for the Blue Penguins over here who stayed out to sea in that area.
CRAWFORD: Which area?
LANGSBURY: Pilots Beach. It's right at the tip of the Otago Peninsula. The Penguins spent their whole time, rather than swimming back and forth every other day to come onto land; they spent six weeks out there, they all came and fed, started breeding early. Temperature does have an influence on what's happening in the marine environment. There will be temperature changes in here, and I can't recall, but it was really hot summers when we saw the sharks, or cold summers. Water temps around here really only changes about 2 to 3° per year. In June and July, when those large easterly storms came in, and this current changed in temperature, it was a significant event off the coast.
Copyright © 2017 Hoani Langsbury and Steve Crawford