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
4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE
CRAWFORD: What was your first recollection of hearing about or seeing a White Pointer?
MALCOLM: I would probably be about, I don’t know, about 8 or 9 years of age, on the beach down at Deborah Bay. The Lewis's used to catch them a lot. In the early days, the fishermen used to clean the fish all the way in, and sharks would follow them up the [Otago] Harbour. The Lewises, sometimes they had gotten a dozen Barracouta and tied them by the tails to a float. When they went out in the morning, there was only the tails left, all the rest were gone. and they knew there’s a White Pointer around. So, they’d set nets or baits and try to catch one. But that was a way back - oh, 70 years ago.
CRAWFORD: I’m presuming that you would have heard about this from a fisherman or people in the community?
MALCOLM: We used to walk down, go down on our bikes, look at the sharks they had on the beach.
CRAWFORD: Do you ever remember hearing about people seeing the White Pointers in the harbour, or just simply seeing the evidence of them after they were caught?
MALCOLM: Well, the odd person used to think they saw them. But lots of Barracouta used to come in the harbour, and the sharks liked to follow the ‘Couta and the Red Cod. But the Lewises and those people down this way at Deborah Bay, as I said they used to set a dozen 'Couta on a float and if they were bitten, they knew there was a White Pointer sculling around.
CRAWFORD: You said they had a particular rig with some type of hook over the top?
MALCOLM: The shark would get the hook part - when it bit on that, it had a hinge here, and two prongs would come down. The harder it pulled on that hook, the harder it pulled on the hinge, and the prongs pulled into the head harder.
CRAWFORD: Would the prongs go over the side of the head?
MALCOLM: Over the top of it.
CRAWFORD: From the front or from the sides?
MALCOLM: From the front. It was quite the rig. It was made by a blacksmith.
CRAWFORD: Do you remember the name of the blacksmith?
MALCOLM: Yeah, Chap Cramond. But he died about 70 years ago.
CRAWFORD: Was this something that you reckon the Lewises had invented on their own?
MALCOLM: Well, I don’t know whether it was Cramond, or the Lewises, but I saw it many a time, and it was an effective weapon anyway. There was no way it could get away. They had about a third of a 44 gallon drum, and it had a bridle to keep it flat. And when the shark turned with it, it tired it out faster. Made a big wash. Had a float so everything wouldn’t sink.
CRAWFORD: A 40 gallon drum?
MALCOLM: No, it would be a couple of 5 gallon paint drums. They used to get the paint drums for painting the bottoms of the big boats, and they’d take the cork out, put canvas in and bang the cork in, then paint over that and they’re water tight.
CRAWFORD: When you saw these rigs for the first time, you would have been a kid? Less than 10?
MALCOLM: Around that age, yes.
CRAWFORD: When was the first time that you saw one of the sharks that had been caught on this gear?
MALCOLM: That would be around the same time.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever see the floats moving, or the guys chasing the floats out there?
MALCOLM: No, no.
CRAWFORD: You just saw the dead sharks when they had come in.
MALCOLM: The final evidence.
CRAWFORD: How many White Pointers did you reckon that you saw, that the Lewises had caught?
MALCOLM: They’d probably get one or two big White Pointers on the beach every year. It was worth the effort. Sometimes, just outside the hotel around the bay, there’d be a big shark sculling around there in my youth. And that’s not very deep water either.
CRAWFORD: You said it was worth the while. Once the shark was brought in, I imagine people would come around for a look, there might be some photographs or something?
CRAWFORD: What kind of harvesting would they do on these sharks, once they got them?
MALCOLM: Well, they didn’t do any. There was never any part that was ever eaten. They just used to catch them, kill them, and then tow them out the deep water, and let them go again.
CRAWFORD: They didn’t take their livers?
MALCOLM: No, they didn't. Livers weren’t being bought in those days.
CRAWFORD: No flesh, and no teeth either?
MALCOLM: Oh, they’d take all the teeth, yes. They used to sell the teeth. Yes, they had some great teeth.
CRAWFORD: Roughly what would the going rate have been for the teeth?
MALCOLM: Oh, they were 2,3,4 pound in those days. That would be like $8-10 a pop.
CRAWFORD: They would have been pulling the teeth out, rather than taking the whole jaws?
MALCOLM: Yes, they would cut around the jaw and just take the teeth. One day I got a White Pointer down off St. Kilda, and the boat would lift a ton aboard, but I couldn’t get it aboard - it was too big. Took me six hours to tow it home. [laughs] And I left it by the wharf in the deep water, and another fisherman here put the diving gear on and flogged all the teeth out of it. After all my hard work. Did they tell you all that?
CRAWFORD: No, I hadn't heard that story.
MALCOLM: No, they wouldn’t tell you those truthful things. [laughs] I did all the work, and got nothing. All those hours of dieseling and effort.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever have any first-hand experience with White Pointers in high intensity interactions with your boat?
MALCOLM: Yes, well I was on a boat once out here somewhere, and we were Blue Codding ...
CRAWFORD: Off where?
MALCOLM: We were out here, off Dunedin somewhere. And a big White Pointer came along and hit the rudder two or three times. And we had our anchor down trying to catch Blue Cod. The skipper said "To Hell with this. If he bites our line, we’ve lost our anchor." So, he said "We’ll shift from here, let him have it. Must be his play ground."
CRAWFORD: Did other fishermen talk about other similar things? Where a shark would be biting a prop or rudder or otherwise hitting a vessel?
MALCOLM: Well, one boat was around the Sounds, I think it was up West Cape and the Big Sound. I’m certain it was a White Pointer - it jumped, latched onto the corner of a Crayfish pot, and crushed the pot. It was a wooden pot, of course. And he couldn’t believe his eyes. That was about 1955.
CRAWFORD: Was the pot hanging above the water at the time?
MALCOLM: Just coming out the water when the shark attacked it.
CRAWFORD: And clamped down and crushed it?
MALCOLM: Yeah, crushed the side of it.
CRAWFORD: Then took off again?
CRAWFORD: Throughout your entire fishing career, did you ever see a White Pointer come up following a fish on a line?
MALCOLM: Oh, many a time.
CRAWFORD: Would this have been off the handlines or longlines or what?
CRAWFORD: This would have been around Otago Peninsula?
MALCOLM: Yeah. And you've got to pull quick, otherwise the shark will win. It’ll come up, next thing all you’ve got left is a head. Just snap.
CRAWFORD: It would have done this just below the surface?
CRAWFORD: Did the animals ever come up out of the water?
MALCOLM: No, no breaching.
CRAWFORD: Just came up, took the fish, and went down?
MALCOLM: Away quite happy. Working on a boat they had a split in the rudder. And I said to the skipper, "It's only going to cost you $10 to get that split between the two boards filled in." He didn’t. This day I was pulling up 11 Groper, the top line had a big shark. And the damned thing swam past the boat, the line got caught in the crack, the shark turned, bit the line, swam away towing 11 Groper behind it! "Ohhh!” I said. “Look at that! You could have had a whole damn new rudder for that!" That really hosed me off, that move.
CRAWFORD: Let's go back to Blueskin Bay. Roughly when was it that you had that encounter with the Blue Sharks and the White Pointers?
MALCOLM: Well that could be ascertained when they had the national swimming champs there.
CRAWFORD: In Blueskin Bay?
CRAWFORD: Ok For now, roughly what year would it have been?
MALCOLM: Probably in the 70’s.
CRAWFORD: Were you contracted to run some shark nets there?
CRAWFORD: This was after the attacks?
MALCOLM: No one got attacked in Blueskin Bay.
CRAWFORD: No, I know that. But it was after the attacks at St. Clair/St. Kilda/Aramoana? The whole 'sharkiness' thing was on people’s minds, and you figure that was why they asked you to come and put some shark nets out there at Blueskin Bay for this swimming championship?
MALCOLM: Yes, yes.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Mid-70’s, they contacted you. What did they say they wanted you to do?
MALCOLM: Put two nets over there, and try and make it safe for the championships.
CRAWFORD: The nets would be running while the swimming competitions were happening?
CRAWFORD: Did you use the DCC nets?
MALCOLM: Yes, yes.
CRAWFORD: What configuration did you lay them?
MALCOLM: Parallel with the beach.
CRAWFORD: Maybe 100 metres offshore?
MALCOLM: Yes, 150 probably. Out of the range of swimming.
CRAWFORD: These were relatively short nets?
MALCOLM: They were about 300 feet long each.
CRAWFORD: Were you on station for the whole time that the competition was on?
MALCOLM: No. They said just come and get them at the finish. And I was blown away.
CRAWFORD: Ok. They run their competition. How long did the nets actually fish for?
MALCOLM: Probably about five days.
CRAWFORD: You set them, and came back five days later?
MALCOLM: Yes, yes.
CRAWFORD: What did you see?
MALCOLM: Well, two or three White Pointers about 8 feet long, six or seven were about this long, about 1 metre - and they’re mean, ugly things too. They’re worse to look at than their big brothers. They've got that sour, mean appearance. I’ve never seen any shorties like them before. The only time I’ve seen them that short was over there.
CRAWFORD: Do you recall whether or not any of those larger White Pointers were males or females?
MALCOLM: No, I didn’t take much notice.
CRAWFORD: You said something about Blue Sharks over there at the same time as well?
MALCOLM: Yeah. They were swimming there, all over the summer. Just lazily moving along the surface.
CRAWFORD: Was Blueskin Bay a place that you had heard there were White Pointers before?
MALCOLM: No. No one had ever mentioned it.
CRAWFORD: And there hadn’t been any harassment of swimmers or anything to your recollection or knowledge?
MALCOLM: No, no.
CRAWFORD: That’s not far from Warrington, right?
MALCOLM: Right. Waikouati - just up a bit, that’s where the first recording of a person killed with a shark in New Zealand. Just down the road here. Waikouati Beach.
CRAWFORD: When was the first you heard of that?
MALCOLM: It was in the paper, but it was in the 1880’s.
CRAWFORD: Was that something that you knew, just as a kid in Port Chalmers?
MALCOLM: Well, we didn’t know ... we wouldn’t have known then. But when I got involved with sharks, you read a bit. In fact, I bought a book and it's out in the workshop somewhere, amongst 50 boxes of books. 1300 and something shark attacks worldwide. One was on the beach in Ozzie, four or five thousand people, and this father had the wee girl on his back and the legs were dangling in the water. He’s walking and talking to his friends. Next thing the girl was pulled off his back and he spun around and said "Now Sam, what are you doing?" Then he saw his daughter disappearing out to sea in the mouth of a shark.
CRAWFORD: But in your time, there was no recollection in Blueskin Bay - or any of those bays really - about the historical attacks around here? You found out later that there had been a fatal attack nearby?
MALCOLM: 1880’s, yes.
CRAWFORD: Do you recall anything about the circumstances of that first attack?
CRAWFORD: In terms of the 'shorties,' do you remember the old-timers or anybody ever talking of catching such small White Pointers - anywhere from the Nuggets to Karitane?
MALCOLM: No, no. but Terry Prendergast, he was superintendent of the Moana swimming pool, and he was my boss. He came out one day, and we got a shark about this long off St. Kilda.
CRAWFORD: About 1.5 metres?
MALCOLM: Yeah, and he’s got a photo of that one. So that would be proof that there is one.
CRAWFORD: Absolutely. What ever happened to the sharks from Blueskin Bay? Were they dead already?
MALCOLM: Yeah, they were all dead. Only ever brought one aboard. And the chap who was with me, we got the winch around it, and hauled it aboard and it started thrashing, jumping. He tore up the bow of the boat. Well, I just got the big knife - I learnt from very young, whether it’s a dog or any type of fish, anywhere across the spine and they’ve had it. Quick as a flash, straight across. Go through that cartilage, and you’ve got a dead shark. So, I jumped on its back and did that, and Bruce said "You bloody idiot, you could have had a leg off before you killed it!" I said, "No, I was too quick for that."
CRAWFORD: What would you have done with the sharks that you caught in the Blueskin Bay nets?
MALCOLM: Oh, I just towed them out to the deep water, and just dropped them off. No use for anything. Used to bring the odd one in for John Dawe, at the University [of Otago]. But sometimes you’d find one, and he wouldn’t come down. Two or three days later you’d have a stinking mess on the boat to clean up.
CRAWFORD: Ok, let's get your history up to your DCC net experiences. Over your entire time on the water around the Otago Peninsula, from the Nuggets say up to Oamaru. How many White Pointers do you figure you’ve seen in the wild? Not including the DCC nets.
MALCOLM: Well, when we’re talking about lining, I probably saw about 20 over the years.
CRAWFORD: Would you have seen any White Pointers under any circumstances other than lining?
CRAWFORD: And those approximately 20 fish, they were over how many years?
MALCOLM: Oh, 20-30 years. Had to be lining, bringing fish in. That would bring the sharks in.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever see any White Pointers when you weren’t fishing or cleaning?
CRAWFORD: Only when you had fish on?
MALCOLM: I had The Wife out one day, and we were down off the high cliff here, south of Cape Saunders. Well, she said "Look, look, look!" I said "What?" You could see from the big fin it was a White Pointer about 50 yards out from the boat. She said, "Are we safe?" I said, "Hell yes, as long as you don’t get in with it, you’ll be safe." That’s about the only one I ever saw, just swimming along.
CRAWFORD: [Discussion about project classification levels for human encounters with White Pointers: Level 1-Observation, Level 2-Swim-By, Level 3-Interest, Level 4-Intense] The White Pointer that you and your wife saw, would have been a level 1. Or did it circle you or anything like that?
MALCOLM: No. We were coming up the coast, and it was just lazily doing its thing.
CRAWFORD: Cruising along. The fin happened to be out of the water?
CRAWFORD: For people who have not been on the water very much … or they’ve been on the water, but they haven’t seen a lot of fish … there have been several instances where it wasn’t terribly clear that they would have known one type of shark from another. I’m presuming that throughout your fishing experience you’ve seen a variety of different kinds of sharks. Did you ever see any Basking Sharks in these waters?
MALCOLM: Yes. I caught one, it was in the shark net - 32 feet long!
CRAWFORD: Was it wrapped up in the net?
MALCOLM: It had broken loose and drifted ashore.
CRAWFORD: Presumably it had died in the nets, and then broken loose? When have you seen live Basking Sharks in this region?
MALCOLM: It would way back in the 40’s, when you used to see a bit more of everything in those days. Just a massive fish, those Basking Sharks.
CRAWFORD: In general, if you were to think of the differences in shape, coloration, or morphology of a Basking Shark versus a White Pointer, what are the things that jump out as being major differences?
MALCOLM: Well, the White Pointer is a different configuration altogether.
CRAWFORD: In terms of the shape of the dorsal fin, between a White Pointer and a Basking Shark … even though you maybe haven’t seen a lot of them in the wild, what do you figure is the difference?
MALCOLM: I’ll have to think about that. I looked at the big one on the beach quite a bit. They wanted me to tow it out to sea and I said, "Gee, I haven’t got a tug! It's so big!’
CRAWFORD: Yes, I know it’s a little unfair to ask … when a Basking Shark is on a beach, it's not the same as when it's in the water. For those approximately 20 White Pointers you saw, directly associated with handlining with fish involved, I'm thinking most of those encounters would be Level 3?
MALCOLM: Most times when you saw a shark come up, it would want what you had on the line. And 9 out of 10 times it would be the victor.
CRAWFORD: And their interest was specifically on the fish? It wasn’t focussed on your boat or you?
MALCOLM: Just the fish, yes.
CRAWFORD: Was there circling behaviour going on?
MALCOLM: No. It was just straight up slowly. They just stay about this far behind, and all of a sudden bite, and just go.
CRAWFORD: Once they did that, once they tried to take a fish, would they circle around then?
CRAWFORD: Ok. That’s very interesting.
MALCOLM: They were just happy to get that morsel and be off.
CRAWFORD: No Level 4 behaviour, no clamping down on your boat, or strong aggression or anything. They were just after the food.
MALCOLM: Just after the food.
CRAWFORD: With the Groper, a fairly big fish, and them making a nice clean cut. Why do you figure the sharks didn’t take the whole fish, and in turn get the hook that was inside the Groper?
MALCOLM: Perhaps they’re not greedy, they only want 2/3 of the meal, I don’t know. They seem to bite, just around, below where the gill starts each time. They just seem to snap off there. They seem to know all the meat's the best part, not the gill and the head.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever witness a White Pointer taking a Groper off your line?
MALCOLM: Yes, and it's so sudden.
CRAWFORD: Describe it to me, please.
MALCOLM: Just to say about an 8 to 10 lb Groper, a little blue one, and you pulling it out in a bit of a dream, wondering if you should shift because the fish are too small. The next thing you see this shark comes up, clamp, shhhh, gone. "Hey! What the hell am I doing?" Just dreaming, lost it. But if that’s where the gills stop, the sharks always seem to ... you think they’d been practicing a lifetime, biting just below the gill line. They never bite above it. They seem to know where to put their teeth, and it's just straight through and gone. It is frightening watching that. You think "Hell, that could have been a hand of mine -gone like that."
CRAWFORD: It could have been. You mentioned to me earlier about how, under some circumstances when you were fishing, you had one foot over the gunwale and one foot in the boat. What were you doing at the time?
MALCOLM: Stirring with a stick.
CRAWFORD: Oh, this is when you were Barracouta fishing?
MALCOLM: Catching the Barracouta, yes.
CRAWFORD: What were you stirring up, and why?
MALCOLM: Well, stirring up. If you come back, I’ll take you down the boat shed, and I’ll show you what we used to do. I’ve got the gear down there. I’m probably the last that’s got the gear too. [laughs] I lived in the past a lot.
CRAWFORD: Well, I guess that makes you the last of the Barracouta fishermen.
MALCOLM: Yes. None around now.
CRAWFORD: Is that because there’s no market for it now, or what?
MALCOLM: They’ve all died.
CRAWFORD: Yes, but how come the young guys aren’t fishing Barracouta?
MALCOLM: Well, we only used to get, it was 3-6, and then went to 4-2 a dozen. And it might have got to 5 bob a dozen, you know, get 6 pence each. And there were easier means of fishing.
CRAWFORD: That’s a labour-intensive fishery.
MALCOLM: Hell-of-sin hard. You stir hour after hour, and swinging ...
CRAWFORD: So, what exactly are you stirring?
MALCOLM: Stirring just under the water, making figure 8’s and zig-zags.
CRAWFORD: And that’s attracting the Barracouta?
MALCOLM: The Barracouta dive in it, and its a bent sharp nail, and its got a washer inside two bits of wood. And once they bite, you keep the weight on, and they can’t fall off. And you drop them on the tail, then they open their mouth, and fall off.
CRAWFORD: This is an old-school fishing technique? And it requires you to be sitting on the gunwale?
MALCOLM: Yeah, with one foot over the side.
CRAWFORD: So, you got a foot in a gumboot on the outside of the boat, and your bum on the gunwale, and a foot in a gumboot on the inside of the boat?
CRAWFORD: And there you are, in the middle of the day, wondering why the hell you’re doing this!
MALCOLM: Yeah. [laughs]
CRAWFORD: Sharks come around once in a while?
MALCOLM: Yeah. Since the Barracouta slowed down its "Ah, I bet there’s a shark not far." Sure enough, and the shark will come up, just lazy up, just bite, just go like this [press] on your gumboot, let go, and swim away.
CRAWFORD: Just closing the mouth? Not biting or chomping? Just closing?
MALCOLM: Just closing.
CRAWFORD: What kind of sharks?
MALCOLM: All different kinds of sharks.
CRAWFORD: Blue Sharks would do that?
MALCOLM: Because they knew ... rubber, it's not something they would want to eat. The rubber gumboot.
CRAWFORD: Roughly how many times would sharks have mouthed your gumboot while you were fishing Barracouta?
MALCOLM: Oh, Crikey.
CRAWFORD: Are we talking like a hundred times?
MALCOLM: Oh, probably several hundred. Several hundred. Never got scared because it happened that frequently. You knew you were safe. Well [laughs] assumed, I should say!
CRAWFORD: Was this something that the old-timers and everyone ... it just happened this way, and everyone just knew about it?
MALCOLM: It happened to everyone.
CRAWFORD: Of the hundreds of sharks that mouthed your gumboot while you were Barracouta fishing, how many White Pointers would you have interacted with that way?
MALCOLM: Oh, there’s bound to have been two or three of them, because just about every type would come up and have a wee ... some would just bump, and some would mouth and just gently touch and they’d feel the rubber and they didn’t like it and the mouth would open and away they’d go. It was one of the things, you just accepted it.
CRAWFORD: Yeah. And you referred to these animals, the White Pointers, before as the 'sneaky shark.' Were they sneaky in that regard too? That they came up underneath or under the boat or ...
MALCOLM: Well, they’d just come along up the tide line, behind the boat, probably looking to see where the ‘Couta had gone. And just willy wally and just have a look. And the White Pointers were probably not that big, but if they had wanted to, they would have gone through the gumboot and the foot too.
CRAWFORD: Yes, but they never did?
MALCOLM: I don’t think they are as dangerous as people think they are. They are just more inquisitive. And they’ve got enough brains to know. They’ve been in the sea long enough to know if it's edible or not.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear from the old-timers, or from your mates, or did you ever see yourself - that these sharks would be curious for things that were floating around?
MALCOLM: Well, they’ve been found with number plates in their stomach, and all sorts of things.
CRAWFORD: Yeah, but number plates don’t float.
CRAWFORD: There are some stories from old-timers on the island. They had the idea that if you put some newspaper out on the water, the White Pointers will come up and investigate this flat floating thing on the surface. Did you ever notice or hear of that type of thing?
MALCOLM: No. It would have to be big paper, because the bigger the shark, the brainier. And they won’t go under a shadow. I’ve observed that. That’s why I use the bottle.
CRAWFORD: Tell me about that. When did you first observe that White Pointers, in particular the bigger ones, the wary ones, wouldn’t go under a shadow?
MALCOLM: That would be way back in ’46, somewhere around there.
CRAWFORD: What did you first notice?
MALCOLM: We used to have these paint drums, thinking if we put the hook and the line, swivel and chain, about 50 feet out from the boat, we might get the big sharks. Because you get more of the small 4,5,6 footers.
CRAWFORD: Is this a point in time when you were targeting sharks?
MALCOLM: Yeah, target sharking. I used to get 30 or 40 every day. They only wanted the livers, so we sent them up north for 10 cents per pound. That was our Christmas paycheck. The Porbeagles, they gave us a shock because they are a warm-blooded shark, and it was very unsettling to put your hand into warm flesh to get their shark livers out.
CRAWFORD: But this wasn’t DCC shark netting - this was long before that? And this was sharks in general, or White Pointers in particular?
MALCOLM: Any shark, for its liver. So, I started looking at this, and I thought sometimes you could see a bit of movement in the water, and a bit of pectoral fin. But they wouldn’t go near the bait. It made me start thinking why? And one side of the boat would get more sharks than the other. That would be the sunny side. Then I thought shadow. So, I started taking out half gallon jar, and there was no shadow through the glass.
CRAWFORD: Roughly, what size of a shank on the baited hook would you be working here?
MALCOLM: Well, I’ve got some hooks in the shed I’ll show you.
CRAWFORD: 8 inch, 10 inch shank? Something like that?
MALCOLM: Big round hook like this.
CRAWFORD: Yeah. And you’d have some fish on there?
MALCOLM: You’d put a Blue Cod head on.
CRAWFORD: And a line to a float?
MALCOLM: No. A lump of chain on a wire, up to the bottle.
CRAWFORD: 'Bottle' meaning float?
CRAWFORD: And originally, you had been using these kinds of solid, colored floats and they would cast a bit of a shadow?
MALCOLM: Yes. And any shadow and there's no shark. So, as I said, when I was playing with sharks, I’d try and out-think them, if you know what I mean. The old saying, out-fox the fox and you get the fox. But I think that’s how I used to get more line fish than others, because I observe fish in shallow water and I just put my mind on it. Just vary it a bit to the deep water, and whatever I tried used to work.
CRAWFORD: You reckoned that if you needed some type of transparent float, so you used - what? Some kind of plastic bottle or something?
MALCOLM: No, it was a glass half-gallon jar.
CRAWFORD: Right. A half-gallon glass jar. But it was transparent, it didn’t cast a shadow?
MALCOLM: No shadow at all.
CRAWFORD: And you caught significantly more sharks of all kinds on that?
CRAWFORD: Including White Pointers?
MALCOLM: Well, I don’t think we’d get many White Pointers. It would be mainly Sevengills, Threshers, every other type you can think of.
CRAWFORD: When you talked about changing your thinking, or taking what you knew about animals from shallow water and applying it to thinking of new ideas about maybe what to do in deeper water, what were you thinking then?
MALCOLM: Well, I observed fish are like chooks.
CRAWFORD: Like what?
MALCOLM: Chooks. A hen that lays eggs. You throw a handful of wheat. What will they do? They all dive in, won’t they? When you first throw your line down, all the fish come in just the same. So, I changed the whole mechanism with hooks and sinkers and things. Where they used to catch one or two Blue Cod at a time, I could catch four or five with my system. I changed the way of fishing.
CRAWFORD: Ok. You were always prepared to change things up, add something, do it in a different way. And you said right from the get-go that you had just a knack for catching more fish.
MALCOLM: Yes. Yeah. You can stay with a method too long, and you think you’re doing good. If you don’t adapt, you don’t know.
CRAWFORD: Yes, I hear you. Ok, it's probably a good point to focus on that part of your experience. Based on what I recall of what you've told me so far, it was 1971 that you first took the DCC contract, for six nets; two at Brighton, two at St. Clair, two at St. Kilda. The nets were 300 ft long, and 9 inch squares, and you ran them parallel to the beaches, tending them roughly three times per week. The important thing is why? What were you told was DCC’s purpose for those shark nets?
MALCOLM: Well, a couple of people were killed by the sharks, and the whole city went nuts for a while.
CRAWFORD: What do you remember about those attacks?
MALCOLM: As I said, I observed the change in temperature, the pressure change, so I used to say to the superintendent "What’s your gauge, barometric pressure? When it stops, starts to come up, tell them at the Surf Life Saving places, keep an eye open. If they see any fins, get the people out the water smartly." But people are damned stupid. There’s one Sunday afternoon I was down doing the nets, and I had two White Pointers on one net, and there’s three others swimming around the boat. So, I called the lighthouse at Taiaroa to phone the Surf Life Saving club. The siren went, everybody went out the water. About 20 minutes later, they started going in again. I thought "You stupid people, all those sharks were on the inside of the net." And a few days later at Port Chalmers, the manager of the shipping container terminal said "Oh, I saw you on Sunday at the beach. The siren went out and all the people come out." And I said "Yeah, but some clowns started going in again." He said "It was my daughters. They said, there’s nothing to worry about Dad, Mr. Malcolm’s out there with a boat. He won’t let the sharks get us." I never went back in the day time. I tried to get there early in the morning or late in the afternoon and do the nets. I didn’t want to give false safety to people. See I had the big blue floats, big pink floats, I could turn up an hour before daylight, and go along the nets and check them. And the swimmers would never know I’ve been and gone, because after the Manager's kids saying that - God that just blew me away.
CRAWFORD: Yes, the weight on your shoulders if anything should have happened. Because they were incorrectly assigning safety with you being there working the nets. You knew as well as everyone else, those nets didn’t cover 10% of the beach line.
MALCOLM: No. And every shark was caught on the inside of the net, not the outside.
CRAWFORD: When you took the contract, did DCC specifically say in writing or in words what the purpose of the shark nets were? Or was it just a contract?
MALCOLM: A contract to try and make the beach safe. There’s no way you could absolutely do it.
CRAWFORD: No, you couldn’t. I mean there are places in South Africa and elsewhere where they have taken the whole idea of barrier nets to a completely different level. In this case, well, it was what it was. How many years was it between the attacks at St. Clair/St. Kilda and the startup with your first DCC shark net contract?
MALCOLM: Probably about a year. But as I said, I used to get about 380 pound balls of twine. When I wasn’t fishing the nets, I’d make new nets for the job. And It was a bit of extra income doing that too. But as I said, the length of the beach, and the lengths of the nets ... It was just like from here to there and there’s the whole beach. It was just ludicrous.
CRAWFORD: Just a fraction. Alright. What did you hear about the attacks?
MALCOLM: They were supposed to be vicious and deadly and that’s about it.
CRAWFORD: Did you know anything about what they were doing at the time when they were hit?
MALCOLM: I think they were just playing in the surf. Just outside the surf.
CRAWFORD: One at St. Clair, one at St. Kilda in a short period of time. And one at Aramoana as well. What do you know about that attack?
MALCOLM: He’d been doing diving there, and the shark got him. But strange as it may seem, the boy that drowned off St. Kilda, the sharks never got him. He drowned. And I came back on the boat from the west coast. We were just about at the [Otago] harbour entrance, got a call on the radio to go back down to Sandfly. They see a boy's head bobbing. We go down there, and I knew my way around, but with the sun coming off the land, the boy was floating like this, he’d go down and his head would come up. Then he’d be 50 yards there or there or there or somewhere. They had an idiot system, the place would get communication from Christchurch [laughs]. I was on the boat and the bloody water for God's sake! By the time we went through the three systems, the body was in a different place again with the tide. But finally I spotted it, and made up a loop, a lasso. We went along and I got it around his neck, and we got a bit of canvas, and pushed down and under him, put him on the boat. Left the deck hose running. I said, "Mission completed, we got him." Well, we got into port, there was an ambulance waiting and the surgeon. And the police and the surgeon said to me "Is there anything I can do for you?" I said, "Yes, see that building over there? That’s a hotel. I want you to get a bottle of whiskey. Before we touch this again, we’re going to have a good tug of whiskey." Those fumes were shocking. He’d been in the water about 12 days."
CRAWFORD: What’s the relationship between this discovery and the sharks?
MALCOLM: Well, proving that the sharks don’t go for every body. They didn’t touch that youth for that 12-day period. He drowned, and yet he was left alone.
CRAWFORD: Yes, I see. No one has commented specifically on that. So, you reckon it's not an indiscriminate kind of scavenging,
MALCOLM: No. But to me it was pertinent to the whole thing.
CRAWFORD: Especially when you consider that’s directly in what people would consider to be a 'sharky' White Pointer 'infested' area. And that White Pointers are definitely known to scavenge.
MALCOLM: Yeah. That boy should never have been seen again.
CRAWFORD: Or at least not a whole body.
MALCOLM: And he drifted a few miles up the coast, so they had plenty of time to get him.
CRAWFORD: Roughly when was that?
MALCOLM: Oh, that would be about ’81, something like that. There’s a nice letter from his mother.
CRAWFORD: Thanking you for the recovery?
CRAWFORD: Yeah, that would be tough for both of you. You share that observation in terms of the lack of sharks in general, White Pointers in particular, attention to this body that was floating along the coast. Did you ever hear from the old-timers, your mates, about any types of Porpoise or Whale carcasses that the White Pointers were attending?
MALCOLM: Yes. Many, many years ago, there was a small Whale and these sharks were tearing into it, and taking pieces out. It was still floating.
MALCOLM: We were trawling up here somewhere.
CRAWFORD: Off Blueskin Bay? Off on the bank?
MALCOLM: Yes. Well out, about 35 fathoms.
CRAWFORD: Different types of sharks, or White Pointers?
MALCOLM: Everything. White pointers included. Just tearing in, and taking lumps out. It’d be about 20-odd sharks there, guaranteed. That’s the only time I ever observed that.
CRAWFORD: Ok, back to the DCC nets. You started fishing approximately a year or so after the attacks. You fished for 11 years. During that entire 11-year period, how many White Pointers did you catch in those nets?
MALCOLM: I don’t know where my book is now. I used to write down the number of sharks every time. But there was quite a lot, quite a lot.
MALCOLM: Oh, there would have to be, over the 11 years, probably have to be 70 or 80 I should say.
CRAWFORD: 70 or 80?!
MALCOLM: I wasn’t allowed to say too much about it. They didn’t want to scare the public.
CRAWFORD: Was that in your contract, or just your boss saying that?
MALCOLM: The boss saying that.
CRAWFORD: But you reported to your boss. And 70 or 80 White Pointers over 11 years! There’s been some discussion, and I haven’t followed up on it too much, over the course of the DCC netting program about the accuracy and reliability of those numbers reported. I don’t know what you’ve heard, or what people have said to you in that regard. Did people ever challenge you on your reports?
MALCOLM: Well, as I see it, the first Superintendent came out three or four times, and he used to watch me write down the species and numbers in the book. Then the other one came out. When you’re writing it down on the daily basis, you’ve got to be factual.
CRAWFORD: Either that, or it’s a hell of a lot of work to make shit up.
MALCOLM: But sometimes you get Elephant Fish caught in the net too.
CRAWFORD: Yeah. What would the most common bycatch in the DCC nets be? What else was getting caught up?
MALCOLM: I shouldn’t say it, I wasn’t allowed to - Porpoise. I had to take them out, and tow them away, put the knife in, and let them go down so they wouldn’t wash up on the beach. Cause you get the net marks on them.
CRAWFORD: Were those animals protected at the time?
MALCOLM: Yes, yeah. But you couldn’t do much about it. "It's people or animals" they said.
CRAWFORD: If you had to estimate the number of Porpoises?
MALCOLM: Oh, over the years, it’d be 30 or 40 I guarantee.
CRAWFORD: What other types of species would have been caught in those DCC nets?
MALCOLM: Used to get a lot of Elephant Fish, they've got the spike on their back. And they must have got that sharp spike in the mesh. But they’re a good fish to eat.
CRAWFORD: Did you harvest those out of the nets and sell them?
MALCOLM: Yes. Used to make soup out of them, a good soup.
CRAWFORD: What would be one of the next most-common, incidental catches?
MALCOLM: You might get the odd silly Groper. That was all. You never got much, because the mesh was too big.
CRAWFORD: What about other kinds of sharks?
MALCOLM: Oh, you got many different species of sharks.
CRAWFORD: What was the most common non-target shark?
MALCOLM: A bit of everything really. Once they got their side fins hooked, and they spun, they’d wrap up, and that was that. When they’re wrapped up, there’s no way they can fight along 20-odd feet of mesh and get out.
CRAWFORD: No. And as you were saying before, this is how you knew that there were people that were interfering with the nets?
MALCOLM: Yeah, you get a row of knots and it’s [whistles], neat as ninepence.
CRAWFORD: And you reckon that this was people who weren’t there primarily to sabotage the gear - in and of itself?
MALCOLM: They were there for the teeth.
CRAWFORD: They were there to cut out a shark, presumably a White Pointer, to get the teeth for a trophy?
MALCOLM: Yeah. Then they’d cut the net, destroy the net, let the shark fall out. Now, the Superintendent found out the boyfriend's name from one of the ladies in the office, got onto the police. "How did you make out, is there going to be a case?" they said. "He’s already in jail in Christchurch for another crime!" [laughs] I said "Bloody good." But they were defeating the purpose. We were trying to defend them, and yet they cut the net and wrecked the net, and it was a lot of cost to Council to get the net repaired.
CRAWFORD: Yes, it was. In terms of recognizing when a shark had bitten its way through a net - was there anything else that could tear a hole in these nets?
MALCOLM: No, it's impossible. This shark would just, if it got caught, head first, it would probably move around a bit but it would make a ragged hole, and big bits of loose string in all directions. Not a neat run of following a knife along.
CRAWFORD: When you encountered the nets with holes in them, roughly how big would those holes be?
MALCOLM: Some would be up to 30 feet long where they’ve cut.
CRAWFORD: No, I’m talking about where it was the sharks that were chewing their way out.
MALCOLM: Oh, that’s different. It might only be something a little bigger than a shark's body. But ragged and teared.
CRAWFORD: How often did you find those ragged cuts?
MALCOLM: Not very often. It was more human activity. God knows how many sharks we never saw. There was a lot from these clowns that would go ... we’re watching from the shore one day, and these chaps went out from shore with the surf boat, hang onto the net, and you see two go down swimming along the net. I said "What’s the bloody use of trying to do a job, and there they are interfering with it?" So, it sort of hacks you off.
CRAWFORD: Over the 11 years, how many times roughly do you figure you found those big cuts where you figured that somebody had gone in to cut out?
MALCOLM: Oh, that would be two or three times a year, easy.
CRAWFORD: Did you keep your own records, or were you required to submit records?
MALCOLM: Yes, I used to hand them in to him. But I kept my own book with all the records. I've got about 90-odd big boxes down in the workshop, and where things are I wouldn’t have a clue. When I shifted, everything was packed away and. I can’t find my shark books or anything I’ve got down there now.
CRAWFORD: I’m not suggesting that you go out of your way, but Johnnie, if you find that your curiosity has peaked, I’d greatly enjoy coming back and having a look at things that you have set aside. I think that’s a piece of history that is important.
MALCOLM: I’ll show you some of those 'Couta pores and the 'Couta stick, and bits and pieces I’ve got down in the boat shed.
CRAWFORD: Good. Was it the case that those 70 White Pointers over the 11 years in the DCC nets were equally distributed over time? Or was it more of them early on?
MALCOLM: They were more constant, the numbers.
CRAWFORD: Spread out over the 11 years?
CRAWFORD: Nets went in December?
CRAWFORD: Did you catch White Pointers straight away, in December?
MALCOLM: I don’t think so, not originally, I think we had to wait a week or two. I don’t know why. It may have been the weather. Sometimes it can get snotty off the beach.
CRAWFORD: Yes, it can.
MALCOLM: I devised a different anchoring system. I had car tubes around the rope for the anchor, so it wouldn’t chafe with the sand. Because when you get a storm, you get millions of grains of sand blasting the rope around the shackles. And it gets thinner and thinner, and when you want to pull the anchor up, it breaks off. So, you had to be thinking all the time.
CRAWFORD: Over the course of the entire 11 years, did you notice that there was any type of general seasonality to your catches in the DCC nets?
MALCOLM: No, it just seemed to be about regular over the summer months. Just more like a level playing field.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever notice that there was kind of a pattern in size of fish over time, or within the seasons?
MALCOLM: No, they just seemed to be roughly the same numbers and same sizes. But when you went back, just after a change in weather, you could always guarantee after that Sou'West would come away, that’s when they’ll be sculling around. You could see the sharks swimming in lazy circles. They’d probably go past the end of the net, and when they’re doing this circling, they come up the inside of the net, and that’s when they get the lateral fin caught, and they’d twist. Well, they just don’t swim up and down the beach in a straight line like a lot of people seem to think they do. They just go around in slow, lazy circles.
CRAWFORD: Do you know that from seeing them do it?
MALCOLM: Seeing them do it.
CRAWFORD: So, while you’re out there, and the nets are in the water, regardless of whether there’s a shark in the net, you can see these White Pointers?
MALCOLM: Yes. Seen them both at St. Clair and St. Kilda. One day I had two in the net, and then three were swimming around in lazy circles. Then I saw the same out off the beach at St. Clair one day. Had a couple in the net, and see them on the inside, just lazy circles, going round and round. And I worked out, that’s how they get caught, is swimming around in these lazy circles, and you get the strong tide, and they must just misjudge a bit, and the tide sort of gets them, and the fin gets in the net, they panic, and roll up. When they roll up they drown, because the water's not going past their gills.
CRAWFORD: You said all of the White Pointers, or almost all of the them, were caught on the inside of the nets?
MALCOLM: Yes, yeah.
MALCOLM: They seemed to swim past the net and go in. They’d get caught coming out.
CRAWFORD: But me, not knowing any better, I would have figured it would be kind of a random thing - where half of them would be caught on the inside, and half would be caught on the outside.
MALCOLM: No, most on the inside. 90% guarantee it.
CRAWFORD: You would have hauled the nets onto your vessel, and it would take quite a while. Were the torn or cut nets ruined or were they salvageable?
MALCOLM: No, you can repair any type of string.
CRAWFORD: Do you remember Warren Lewis?
MALCOLM: Yeah, down in the bay.
CRAWFORD: He was talking about he and his dad, or he and his uncle, having the contract to service the DCC nets. Was that while you were fishing the nets, or was that later?
MALCOLM: No, that was later.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Roughly, what was the kind of size range of White Pointers that you would have gotten out of the DCC nets? Most typically?
MALCOLM: These would all be about 8 or 9 feet long, I suppose.
CRAWFORD: Did you did occasionally see some small ones?
MALCOLM: Only the one. Terry Prendergast, he’s got a photo of that small one we had that day. What people tend to forget, they say, "That’s only a small shark." But I don’t care. A big dog bites, and makes a mess. And a small shark can still bite, and take a piece right out. And I don’t care how big the shark or small, the fact that they've got good chomping gear - they can take their bite out, and if it's around the arteries and main veins ...
CRAWFORD: You’re going to bleed out, quickly.
MALCOLM: The faster you swim, the faster you pump your blood out. If you go slow, it’s the other way.
CRAWFORD: On the small side then, you saw that one in the DCC nets, which was if I recall correctly, the same size as the ones you saw at Blueskin Bay. Like I said before, for a fish ecologist, that raises the flags because you don’t just get little White Pointers for no reason. You get them from a pupping, and a White Pointer pupping event is rarely described in these southern waters. What do you reckon was the largest White Pointer you caught in the DCC nets?
MALCOLM: That big brute. The boat would lift a tonne, and I couldn’t get it aboard. The water was coming over the cap rail.
CRAWFORD: That was the one you had to tow back, and it took six hours or something?
MALCOLM: Yes, yes. It was a big brute that one!
CRAWFORD: You reckon 16-18 feet?
MALCOLM: It had to be, yes, yes.
CRAWFORD: In terms of the animals you saw, was there any difference you recall between the animals you saw swimming around the nets versus the ones you were catching? Or were they pretty much the same sizes?
MALCOLM: All much the same, yeah.
CRAWFORD: Did the old-timers, your mates, did you ever see or hear about White Pointers swimming around in groups?
MALCOLM: Never. Oh, just once off the beach at Dunedin.
CRAWFORD: The DCC nets?
MALCOLM: Yes. Probably eight or nine White Pointers would be the most I’ve seen in one go.
CRAWFORD: What do you mean by in 'one go'?
MALCOLM: Well, at the same time, swimming around the boat.
CRWFORD: And you had drowned White Pointers in the net at the time?
CRAWFORD: The effect of having dead White Pointers in the DCC nets. For the number of fish that you said, roughly 70 that were caught in the shark nets over your 11 years. Did you ever notice a pattern that when you caught a dead animal in the nets, that it would be a period of time, days or weeks, that you wouldn’t see any more White Pointers? Either in the nets, or in the region, after that?
MALCOLM: Down at Brighton was a great place there, if the Sou’West come away strong and you couldn’t get back for a week or ten days, a shark had been in the net most of the time just rotting away. But along the net further you could still get a fresh shark in. It didn’t seem to deter them, I’m afraid.
CRAWFORD: And you had at least one instance where you had dead sharks in the nets, and live sharks swimming around. So that would seem to indicate that there was nothing about the drowned sharks in these nets that would ...
MALCOLM: A glaring example of Sunday afternoon off of St. Kilda where I had to phone and get the people off the beach. White Pointers were swimming around, while I was trying to get two off the nets and on the boat.
CRAWFORD: Any other changes from over the years that you recall? Or the years that you fished anyways?
MALCOLM: No, not really. Everything was sort of ... the food was constant, and everything seemed fairly constant.
CRAWFORD: Ok. For all the sharks that you caught in the DCC nets, did you ever cut open the guts?
MALCOLM: Not really. But they used to be feeding on, the odd one, small Blue Cod, Perch, or Butterfish, and things like that. Nothing of any consequence.
CRAWFORD: No Groper?
MALCOLM: No Groper, no.
CRAWFORD: No Seal parts or anything?
MALCOLM: No parts like that, no.
Copyright © 2017 John Malcolm and Steve Crawford