Interview Location: Dunedin, NZ
Interview Date: 02 December 2015
Post Date: 08 July 2017; Copyright © 2017 Iain Govan and Steve Crawford
4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE
CRAWFORD: What about your own experiences with sharks?
GOVAN: Perhaps an interesting thing here is, the incidents of other shark encounters, other shark varieties, has gone up.
CRAWFORD: Tell me a little about that.
GOVAN: I think probably out of the last few times I’ve been out I’ve had two encounters. One was very direct, if you like.
CRAWFORD: A bumping?
CRAWFORD: Or more than a bumping?
GOVAN: Uh, no. I lost my gun trying to fend the thing off. My gun was disappearing down it’s throat, so I had to had to let go.
CRAWFORD: What kind of shark was it?
GOVAN: It was a Broadhead Sevengiller. It was a big fella. I would have said it was probably about three meters, from head to tail.
CRAWFORD: Whereabouts was this?
GOVAN: That was down at the north end of Tautuku Beach In all fairness to the Sevengiller, it was probably just interested in the fish.
CRAWFORD: You had fish in a float?
GOVAN: Yes. I had just shot a fish, and turned to swim to the float. I saw the shark up at the fish already on the float. It disengaged, turned, and swam at me. All I could do was hold on to the shaft of the speargun, and try and keep some distance with it. But of course, my fish was stuck on the end of the shaft. I was using a multi-pronged head, so the fish was stuck on the end of it.
CRAWFORD: Kind of like, it’s having an hors d’eourve?
GOVAN: And it’s a hungry pit bull, yes. So, terrible timing. Of course, it was opening its mouth, and everything was rapidly disappearing into it. It was like a big cavernous hole. My mate who was in the area appeared, and he was jabbing the heck out of it with his gun, but it didn't take any notice. It was like a one-way ratchet, My hands were only a few inches from its teeth when I decided it was time to let go. So, I let go, swam back to the boat. The shark spat the gun out, and came back at us. We got to the boat and jumped out, and that was the last we saw of it.
CRAWFORD: Within the spearfishing community, are these kinds of interactions with the Sevengillers increasing in frequency?
GOVAN: Absolutely, I would say yes.
CRAWFORD: Throughout the entire region?
GOVAN: Yeah. I think the very next time I went out, a mate of mine who had just started spearfishing ... I said "Look, we’ll go up to Karitane - nothing ever happens up there, you know? It's a nice safe place for you to go." Took him up there. It was a reasonably rough day, and we were not far off the shore in kelpy, rocky terrain. I hadn’t seen him for a while, turned around, and saw him standing up on a rock out in the water. I called out “What are you doing up there?” and he called back that there was a shark up by the float. I asked him “How long have you been up there?” “About two or three minutes it’s been thrashing around out there.” “Did you not think to tell me?" I yelled. He’d shot a fish, and I had about half a dozen fish on the float. He’d shot one, and was putting it on the float and had quite a strong bump on his thigh - he thought he must have hit a rock. He turned around and there was a shark right there. Sounded by his description of it, that it was a Sevengiller as well. He dropped everything. Said it grabbed the fish on the end of his gun and that was the last he saw of it while he was in the water, until he was on the rock and saw it thrashing about.
CRAWFORD: So, once the Sevengiller got the fish, he didn’t bug you anymore?
GOVAN: No. So, in all fairness to it, the encounter I had ... that’s what it was interested in. But it had no fear at all of the other activity that was going on. So, I’d say those encounters have increased a lot here. And there was another one down in Preservation [Inlet] when we flew down there ...
CRAWFORD: That’s southern Fiordland?
GOVAN: Yes, right down the very bottom corner. A couple of years ago, just hunting and diving. I didn’t bother to go spearfishing, but my friend was keen to get out, so he went out and saw another one in the water there. I had been at the same place about 30 years earlier and had spent several days diving for Crays and spearfishing, but had had no encounters.
CRAWFORD: Another Sevengiller?
GOVAN: Yes. There are also quite a few encounters that I know people have been having in the [Otago] Harbour. Around the entrance to the harbour.
CRAWFORD: Let's talk about White Pointers down towards St. Clair, St. Kilda, and points southwest. What do you know about observations of White Pointers in that region?
GOVAN: I had an interesting experience off Green Island. I can’t say for sure what it was, because I didn’t see it. I was spear fishing out there with my friend Chris Dodds - we regularly went out to Green Island together.
CRAWFORD: When was this?
GOVAN: Maybe 1987 or 88
CRAWFORD: Summer or winter?
GOVAN: Would have been over the summer or autumn.
CRAWFORD: What happened?
GOVAN: Dropped down the bottom. Free diving off of the eastern tip - there’s a reef running out there. There were a lot of fish around on the bottom and I thought I’ll fish up and down here for a bit. Dropped down to about 30-35 foot. And then suddenly I just had a sensation "There’s something not right," you know? Things seemed to go dark, and it was just the hairs on the back of your neck thing. For no apparent reason the light seemed to change around me. Headed back up to the surface. I'm almost at the surface, and all of a sudden I was just in red. Just a cloud of red. I broke the surface, and was in a patch of blood. I saw Chris about 20, 30 meters away or so, swam over to him, and said I’d just swam up through a big patch of blood on the surface, and there’s another one there, another patch of blood there. He thought I was imagining things and said it would just be krill, and I said you go and have a look! He swum over and stuck his head into it and immediately agreed that it was blood. So, we swam to the island, and got out. Chris’ inflatable was anchored up in the bay around the back. We probably spent about 20 minutes looking, but no sign of anything. So, we swam out to the inflatable and came home. Thinking about it - I thought and thought and thought - the only thing I could surmise that happened, was that literally right over my head, a Seal had been bitten.
GOVAN: Never saw any remains of the Seal, never saw the White Pointer, if there was one. There was just no other explanation for it. I cannot see any other explanation at all for what happened then. Anecdotally, that’s kind of supported by ... It was two or three weeks later, Chris was out there spearfishing by himself.
CRAWFORD: At Green Island?
GOVAN: Green Island, in same area. Poor visibility that day. He had, he said, 10-12 fish on his float. He used quite a heavy wire trace from his float to the fish spike. I used a thick cord, he used a wire trace. He was towing his float about, felt a sudden jerk on the float, couldn’t see anything, swam back to it, and found the wire snipped off and no sign of any fish. So, in other words, something had come along - there was no other thing that could have happened. Something had come along, one bite, taken the whole lot, and carried on.
CRAWFORD: Roughly how big was the float, in a case like this?
GOVAN: The float itself, would have had about so much.
CRAWFORD: Half a meter?
GOVAN: A bit less perhaps a third. Then from the float, the wire or cord goes down to the spike, with the fish stacked up on that. You know how it works? You stick the spike through the eye cage, and they just load up like that. We generally work with a line or wire just under a metre long. There was only two or three inches left of his wire. That happened in a very short time, in almost exactly the same spot as that over-the-head thing.
CRAWFORD: Have you seen Basking Sharks in the wild?
GOVAN: I’ve seen lots in Scotland.
CRAWFORD: In Scotland? I’ll take that. You’ve seen lots in Scotland but you have also seen White Pointers here.
GOVAN: I’ve only seen one White Pointer in the flesh, and that’s when, early 80’s, we were heading out to dive, spearfish at Shag Point and there was one cruising along off the rocks.
CRAWFORD: Right, but you have seen both species in the wild.
GOVAN: I've seen both.
CRAWFORD: I'll ask you then the same question I ask everybody who has seen both. How do you discriminate?
GOVAN: Yes, well the fin shape.
CRAWFORD: What about it?
GOVAN: At Shag Point, the fin was a very distinct sort of triangle, you know, sort of sail boat type.
CRAWFORD: As opposed to a Basking Shark?
GOVAN: I’ve got to say I can’t remember too much, because I was mostly looking down on them. But certainly a lot less prominence than the fin on a White Pointer, and more of big kind of broad head with the basking shark. Colourwise it [Basking Shark] was very dark - more darkish, a browny-fawny colour. And there was an occasional wash of a tail. I suppose 7-8 foot, like a person length or so, behind the fin.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever see any of the Basking Sharks feeding?
GOVAN: No. I’ve swum up to them and grabbed them, well not grabbed them because they’re slippery, but tried to grab them. When I was in the water. Never saw them feeding. They’re cavernous.
CRAWFORD: Huge mouths.
GOVAN: Front-end yes. There’s sort of like a prominent, snouty thing, yeah.
CRAWFORD: Ok. But to be clear, you haven’t seen Basking Sharks here?
GOVAN: No, not here.
CRAWFORD: Any of your mates seen Basking Sharks here?
GOVAN: No, not that I’m aware of. I probably would have heard about it.
Copyright © 2017 Iain Govan and Steve Crawford