Experience: Commercial Fisherman
Regions: Otago, Catlins, Fiordland
Interview Location: Palmerston, NZ
Interview Date: 02 February 2016
Post Date: 25 October 2017; Copyright © 2017 John Malcolm and Steve Crawford
3. WHITE POINTER DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE
CRAWFORD: Did you ever see any White Pointers alive in the harbour?
MALCOLM: No. I never did myself, no.
CRAWFORD: Did any of your mates or anyone else you knew ever see White Pointers in the harbour?
MALCOLM: Not my school cobbers, no. But what attracted them also ... by the lighthouse there used to be a chute. And the firms would take all the fish offal there and dump it down the chute.
CRAWFORD: At Taiaroa Head?
MALCOLM: Yeah. And that caused a big conglomeration of fish guts and everything, and that attracted the sharks too.
CRAWFORD: Sharks in general? White Pointers in particular?
CRAWFORD: Did you ever see that dump?
MALCOLM: Oh, I saw them dump it.
CRAWFORD: Saw it from the land or from the water?
MALCOLM: From the land and the water. You'd come up the coast and see a lorry dumping the big tubs of offal down the chute.
CRAWFORD: Did it mostly hit the cliff, and then bounce down? Or was it directly into the water? Or what?
MALCOLM: Most of it went into the water.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever see any White Pointers at Taiaroa Head, associated with the offal dump?
MALCOLM: No, no.
CRAWFORD: Did you hear about White Pointers being attracted to that?
MALCOLM: Well, I heard about them being on the other side, on this side from it.
CRAWFORD: Aramoana side?
MALCOLM: People used to swim here.
CRAWFORD: Ok. But were there other people who said that the offal, the fish waste, attracted the White Pointers?
MALCOLM: Yes. They must’ve seen at some time. If you spent a bit of time looking at Albatrosses and things looking down, you must have seen something, somewhere, sometime. But that dumping was banned, that finished. It was too dangerous.
CRAWFORD: Too dangerous for what?
MALCOLM: For the people, with the offal going there.
CRAWFORD: Just that they might fall in, over the cliff?
MALCOLM: Oh, no. It’s a hazard for sharks, for the swimmers and the fishermen.
CRAWFORD: That’s the first I heard of this. Who was it that made this decision?
MALCOLM: Oh, I think it was [Dunedin] City Council, I think.
CRAWFORD: So, somebody must have lodged a complaint, saying that that dumping activity was attracting the sharks, and that in turn would cause a hazard for swimmers or boaters or whomever?
MALCOLM: People were getting frights. There was spearfishing over on the other side, and they were blaming the offal being dumped attracting the sharks.
CRAWFORD: Do you remember roughly when it was when the offal dump finished?
MALCOLM: Oh, Crikey. That must have been probably mid to late 70’s I’d say, somewhere around there. Probably Cliff Skeggs would know that, because his firm used to be one of the dumpers. He’s the ex-Mayor of Dunedin, but he used to have a fish firm. If you talk to him, mention my name.
CRAWFORD: Ok, thanks. A couple more questions about the harbour. Let's get back to the following behaviour. You said that you never personally saw a White Pointer alive in the harbour, but you saw fish that had been caught in the Otago Harbour?
CRAWFORD: Not too many people, to your recollection, ever saw the White Pointers in the harbour. Why do you figure that they were in the harbour, yet not seen?
MALCOLM: Yeah. I think they are sort of a wily, sneaky, creepy thing. When they are ready, they operate - if you know what I mean. Opportunists.
CRAWFORD: Perhaps they prefer not to be seen? To not put themselves in a place where they would be seen?
MALCOLM: Yeah, to be where they could suddenly act, when it suits them.
CRAWFORD: Like an ambush predator. Then perhaps following behaviour would have been rare to see as well, because if you’re not seeing the animals in the first place, it's unlikely you’re going to see them following. Do you ever remember the old-timers saying anything about seeing White Pointers in the upper harbour - from Port Chalmers into the Dunedin wharf?
MALCOLM: No. In the harbour, there’s an island called Goat Island. But people used to swim from the back beach, out around the island, and back in again. And no one ever got taken by a White Pointer or any other shark
CRAWFORD: Or harassed or anything like that?
MALCOLM: No. So, that makes you think. If the White Pointers were there, you can usually tell where they’d be. You’d see the Shags and other birds working - that’s where the Red Cod or ‘Couta would be. That’s where the sharks would be. They’re not going to be 3-4 miles away from where the food is. I think it all fits a plan.
CRAWFORD: Did the old-timers ever tell you anything about seasonality? About the White Pointers being around at any particular time of year?
MALCOLM: Well, they used to always be around during the Groper season. But you’d get the odd one all year-round. It was more of a browny and white than the black and white. You know, it was still a big White Pointer.
CRAWFORD: What do you mean 'a browny and white'?
MALCOLM: Some of the White Pointers are more brown than black, and we used to call them the winter ones.
CRAWFORD: Because they were not necessarily there all year-round, but you saw those ones in the winter off-season?
MALCOLM: In the off-season, yes.
CRAWFORD: What do you figure was going on with that?
MALCOLM: Whether they were just a bit weary, or didn’t want to go too far that year, or something? Enough food to keep them going? I don’t know.
CRAWFORD: Do you, and the people you grew up with, figure that the animals were mostly here for feeding?
MALCOLM: Well, that’s what I reckon. They hover around where the fish docks are. And as I said, in Blueskin Bay, it’s a home of Red Cod and Barracouta and Gurnard. That’s where you see the Blue Sharks swimming on the surface, Thresher Sharks, and all of those things. But I was absolutely blown away with the number of White Pointers I got in those [DCC] nets.
CRAWFORD: We'll get to those nets in a minute. But, the whole of Otago Peninsula ... you figure it was common knowledge that the White Pointers came in, and were more abundant, when the Gropers were around?
MALCOLM: I think so.
CRAWFORD: Roughly what was the season for Gropers?
MALCOLM: From October through to April, like that.
CRAWFORD: Was there any indication that there was a pattern in terms of the size of the White Pointers?
MALCOLM: I can give you an example. Sometimes we’d be pulling a handline up, 6 or 8 Groper. I’ve got photos, the Groper could have been 80 pounder – with just the head left. One snap, and the whole lot's gone in one bite. So that’s been a big shark to do that.
CRAWFORD: Yes, that’s got to be a big shark to do that. And several other people have had exactly the same observation. Some people … they’re a little bit careful about saying that it was necessarily a White Pointer, because they said Makos - they can take a big fish. Porbeagles potentially too.
MALCOLM: But it’s the way they bite isn’t it? Different biting structures.
CRAWFORD: Tell me about that.
MALCOLM: Well, some have a ragged cut. But the White Pointers, it's [whistles] like a guillotine.
CRAWFORD: Makos have a ragged cut? More ragged?
MALCOLM: Yeah. Some of the teeth are a different shape too.
CRAWFORD: Switching over to Fiordland, for all the time you fished there - I think you said at least 11 years?
MALCOLM: Yes, off and on.
CRAWFORD: For all that time, did you ever see any White Pointers there?
MALCOLM: Never saw one. Saw several other types of sharks, but not the White Pointer.
CRAWFORD: Other sharks, as in Makos, Porbeagles?
MALCOLM: Everything, yes.
CRAWFORD: Did any of the old-timers, or your mates, in Fiordland ever see a White Pointer?
MALCOLM: I think we used to call them the 'sneaky shark.' You never knew it was there.
CRAWFORD. Ok. Let's finish with Fiordland. Nothing that you saw, not the old-timers, not your mates. No evidence of White Pointers there? You didn’t see or hear anything about bits and pieces of Seal or anything like that?
CRAWFORD: What was the Seal population like over in Fiordland at that time?
MALCOLM: Getting to thick again. Quite a lot there.
CRAWFORD: So, it wasn’t any lack of potential food? Was there a Groper fishery in Fiordland at the time?
MALCOLM: Oh, you can get Groper just about anywhere around there.
CRAWFORD: So, all sorts of food. It wasn’t lack of food that would account for people not seeing White Pointers around Fiordland then?
CRAWFORD: Did you notice, or did your old-timers or your mates ever notice, any association between the White Pointers and the Seals in that general region - from the Nuggets up to Karitane?
MALCOLM: Not really. But we would know, like up Nancy Sound [Fiordland], there used to be a large congregation of Seals there.
CRAWFORD: Where’s that?
MALCOLM: That's on the other part of the map. There was a lot of sharks in that area, in those early days.
CRAWFORD: There were some places where there were large aggregations of White Pointers, with a lot of Seals?
MALCOLM: Well, I don’t know how many White Pointers, but it was a known fact there was a lot of sharks hovering around where those Seals were. Because they’d have the young Seals, and they’d be easy for the sharks.
CRAWFORD: As a life-long commercial fisherman, as part of a community of commercial fishermen, when you think of New Zealand as a whole - and you think about places where White Pointers aggregate in numbers. Where do you think of?
MALCOLM: Only where I’ve been would be, as I said earlier on, there's a lot at Blueskin Bay, but also White Island and off St. Kilda beach. That’s seen the most there.
CRAWFORD: What about further south?
MALCOLM: Not really. Only if we were line fishing, you’d see the odd one.
CRAWFORD: What about places you would have heard about? Say about the Foveaux Strait or whatever?
MALCOLM: I’ve heard a lot about the sharks down that way.
CRAWFORD: Did you hear those things back in the day as well?
MALCOLM: They’ve been there for years, evidently.
CRAWFORD: Ok. What about over at the Chathams?
MALCOLM: Oh yes, that’s a wild place for sharks too.
CRAWFORD: Was it always?
MALCOLM: From what I gather, yes.
CRAWFORD: But based on your experience, not so much Fiordland?
CRAWFORD: For the places that there were these aggregations of White Pointers, based on what the old timers and or your mates said … why would those White Pointers aggregate in those places?
MALCOLM: I think it’s the abundance of food.
CRAWFORD: And it might be fish, or it might be Seals?
MALCOLM: There was a lot of Groper over the Chathams and the sharks seemed to like the old Groper for their meal.
CRAWFORD: In all the time that you spent on the water, did you ever see bits of pieces of Seal or Sea Lion, or anything like that. That would have indicated that sharks would have been preying on them?
MALCOLM: No, no.
CRAWFORD: In all the time that you were fishing, especially Blue Cod fishing, did you ever notice anything in the guts of the fish that you were cleaning that that would have indicated that they were feeding on scraps from say a shark attack on a Seal or anything?
CRAWFORD: Have you ever seen, or know anyone who has seen, a White Pointer take a Seal or Seal pup?
CRAWFORD: And yet that’s one of the major reasons why so many people think that Otago Peninsula is an aggregation spot for the White Pointers - the Seal colony.
MALCOLM: There’s a lot of Seals around the peninsula.
CRAWFORD: Have you noticed a change in the number, or where the Seals are, over the decades?
MALCOLM: They’ve grown over the years quite a lot in numbers.
CRAWFORD: If you were to think of the places around the Otago Peninsula ... well, the whole region from the Nuggets to the Karitane, what regions would be most dense in terms of Seals?
MALCOLM: Round Taiaroa Head, and down several of the headlands down there. They are quite prominent.
CRAWFORD: And those numbers have really gone up in the past what, 20 years?
CRAWFORD: Anyplace else along this stretch that would be very dense in terms of Seals?
MALCOLM: Not that I’m aware of.
CRAWFORD: What do you know about the circumstances surrounding the attacks around the Otago Peninsula?
MALCOLM: Oh, I don’t know much. Whether it was nighttime or daytime. What I do know, when you get the hot, lazy, Nor'West day, and the barometric pressure is slowly going down, just as the glass starts to rise, before the Sou'West comes away, that’s when the sharks will go for people. Something I’ve observed.
MALCOLM: Well, they probably know it's going to be three or four days of Sou'West weather, so they’re getting a feed in before.
CRAWFORD: Do you figure that the number of White Pointer attacks on Seals would be up at approximately the same time as well?
MALCOLM: I’d say the Seals would be getting hurry up too.
CRAWFORD: Basically, food of any type? That trigger is a general feeding thing, not human-specific?
MALCOLM: Yeah. You get these hot, lazy days, and the glass slowly down, down, down, down. Soon as it starts to come up, and the Sou'West changes, that’s when they’ve been taken off the beach out here. I’ve observed that.
CRAWFORD: Ok. That’s the kind of pattern and mechanism that I’m looking for. Let's get back to Blueskin Bay. You were surprised ...
MALCOLM: I was honestly ... We used to go handlining over there, trying to get the odd Groper at the time, wind was too strong out of the Sou'West. The dredge used to dump all the harbour shells and sand on the point around there. And we could catch the odd Groper, but never ever got a White Pointer.
CRAWFORD: With regards to the attacks, it was a during short period of time, they were a short geographic distance away from each other. Why do you think so many attacks occurred in such a short period, so close? If you had to guess?
MALCOLM: As I said, it was the changing barometric pressure.
CRAWFORD: But those types of changes in barometric pressure, they change over the course of a year, over several years. There hasn’t been an attack since. Knock on wood here. [knock, knock]
MALCOLM: No, but you’ve got to get everything in line.
CRAWFORD: When you say getting things in line ...
MALCOLM: You have to have the people in the water, and the change of pressure.
CRAWFORD: I’m guessing there are more people in the water now than there ever has been?
CRAWFORD: Do you figure, based on what you’ve heard, that the population abundance of White Pointers has gone down, or stayed the same, or gone up?
MALCOLM: It must be fairly stable, because they haven’t had the nets for a couple of years I believe. And there hadn’t been any sharks caught.
CRAWFORD: But even when I interviewed Graeme [Fraser], and he was fishing different nets for the second decade ...
MALCOLM: He had smaller mesh too.
CRAWFORD: He did, and he didn’t catch any sharks. Well, didn’t catch any White Pointers.
MALCOLM: And I think that’s why.
CRAWFORD: The gear?
MALCOLM: The mesh was too small.
CRAWFORD: You reckon then, if we took the old configuration out now ...
MALCOLM: I reckon mine would win.
CRAWFORD: You reckon you would get the same number of White Pointers now, that you got back in the day?
MALCOLM: Well, I reckon that it would probably be on par.
CRAWFORD: Which means that it’s not necessarily the case that those sharks are not out there?
MALCOLM: No. They will still be there, because there’s still the feed out there around the islands – White Island and up and down the coast.
CRAWFORD: When you say feed around White Island, and Green Island ...
MALCOLM: That’s the Blue Cod and Groper and things. They’re still there.
CRAWFORD: Still lots of fish out there?
MALCOLM: If a shark has had enough to eat of its natural food, it might not be sculling around the same in the shallower water. But they go by a lot of stink too. Don’t forget in those days, the sewage used to come off Lawyer’s Head, and come along the beach as well.
CRAWFORD: What do you figure is the relationship between the sewage and the White Pointers?
MALCOLM: They’re probably inquisitive, and they can smell the human. If I had my way, I’d never let a dog on a beach. Never.
MALCOLM: Many years ago … I’d be about 12, we went into the country. This farmer had a collie dog that was crook and past work. He didn’t want to shoot it, and he had a 44 gallon drum of water. He put it head first in the water, put boards on it and big weight. and drowned the dog. I’ll never forget, I can still hear that dog barking underwater, and you could hear that noise coming through the tin. Now, when you get a dog, happy on the beach barking, that noise will run through the water and attract a shark. Ever since that dog, it made me think that’s what sharks ... they’ve got all those senses. More senses than humans.
CRAWFORD: Is this something that the old-timers would have said as well? That you don’t let dogs down to the beach?
MALCOLM: No, that’s just my views. Because if they’re barking, in the water, frolicking and playing, and the heads under water as they’re barking, that noise transmits a long way.
CRAWFORD: Have you ever heard of a shark attracted to a place where a dog is on or in the water?
MALCOLM: No, but you’ve got to think of every cause. Same with women during their monthly cycles. I’d never let them in the water either.
CRAWFORD: Was that something that back in the day, it was just kind of common knowledge that that shouldn’t happen, or didn’t happen?
MALCOLM: No, nobody ever spoke of women in the water. But it made me feel weird reading about sharks, about how they’re so sensitive to blood and various things. Well, you get a few females in the water, that concentration of blood. Well, I don’t think they’re a good thing to have around you. No way.
CRAWFORD: What, if anything, have you heard about some of the recent research that’s been done on the White Pointers in New Zealand?
MALCOLM: Not much here. But I watch that series on the Sunday night with the overseas program where they were breaching in South Africa, jumping right out the water. And where they’re going hundreds and hundreds of miles from one place to another, to coincide when the feed turned up. And they were passing different rocks and pinnacles and things, finding their way, just like an underwater sign post.
CRAWFORD: Have you heard of any similar kinds of research projects or studies that people have done for the New Zealand White Pointers specifically?
MALCOLM: No, no. That chap from the North Island, Wade Dougs or something. Underwater aquarium chap. He came out one day and dived down around, and I think he got a shock with sharks or something down there.
CRAWFORD: Down where?
MALCOLM: Where my shark nets were. He wanted to have a look. He had a friend - she went to scuba dive with the Moana Pool. She went down to Cape Saunders, first time down, four or five sharks come around her, she got out, and never went back in again. She said “To hell with this!”
CRAWFORD: Sharks ‘came around’ in terms of circling?
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear about KZ-7? Does that name mean anything to you?
MALCOLM: KZ-7, the yacht?
CRAWFORD: It was indeed - it was a New Zealand yacht in the America’s Cup, as I understand. Did you ever hear any stories about a shark in the Otago region that got named KZ-7?
MALCOLM: No, no.
Copyright © 2017 John Malcolm and Steve Crawford