Experience: Scuba Dive Instructor/Guide
Regions: Canterbury, Cook Strait, Fiordland
Interview Location: Milford Sound, NZ
Interview Date: 08 February 2016
Post Date: 01 December 2017; Copyright © 2017 Lance McKirdy and Steve Crawford
4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE
CRAWFORD: Ok. Let’s move to your personal experiences. Have you had direct observations of White Pointers in the Fiordland region?
CRAWFORD: How many?
MCKIRDY: Two that I’ve personally identified.
CRAWFORD: And others that you did not personally identify?
MCKIRDY: Yes. Other peoples’ sightings close to the day that we have been diving.
CRAWFORD: Ok. For the first category, when was the first instance that you saw a White Pointer here?
MCKIRDY: Only around one month ago.
CRAWFORD: We’re talking mid-January 2015?
MCKIRDY: Yeah. Early January.
CRAWFORD: Please tell the story in as great detail as you feel appropriate. Focus on location, focus on what you saw, and focus on interactions if any.
MCKIRDY: Well there was two sightings over a three-day window. The first thing I’d seen was a Seal that was sitting on Copper Point. We always stop to look at the Seals, and there’s normally 20-30 Seals there. We got around the corner, and there was only two Seals, and one was very clearly wounded around the flanks, through the fat layer, though not bleeding. And it was quite obvious he’d been bitten by something very large. Apart from the fact that it was not a nice sight to see whatsoever, of course. No Seals. It was obvious that there was something big in the water that had attacked the Seal. We were about to go diving a bit further on in limited visibility conditions. Certainly, you know the fear and the ability to temper that fear to maintain professional composure is certainly there. And then I think it would have been the following day, or around that time, I had divers in the water at the end of the marine reserve area, and clearly distinctively saw the form of a shark - a very large shark - on the depth sounder of the boat. I was pretty sure that it was what I thought it was, a White Shark. And even before I had an opportunity to inform the divers that were already descending down. What I’d seen on my depth sounder was in the range of 25-30 meters depth, and the divers were descending onto the shallow water where the shark was just cruising. But I was very aware that I had six divers going underwater, and a very large shark just underneath the boat.
CRAWFORD: Getting back to the Seal with the wound the day before, you indicated that it was not bleeding at the time?
MCKIRDY: No, the fat layer was so thick, and it was on both sides.
CRAWFORD: So, it wasn’t missing a chunk?
MCKIRDY: No, it was alive.
CRAWFORD: It had the bite marks, but not the piece removed?
CRAWFORD: And there were only a pair of Seals on the rock, when there were typically ...
MCKIRDY: Probably 20-30 Seals on that one spot. So, they'd vacated.
CRAWFORD: Did you happen to get a picture?
MCKIRDY: No. But I know all the Skippers saw the Seal. It was there for two days, and then gone.
CRAWFORD: You indicated that when you were back a day or so later, you saw a shape on the sonar. I’m presuming you’ve got a standard, retail sonar rig on your vessel?
MCKIRDY: Fairly basic depth sounder. But you know, you can’t mistake something live, swimming underwater.
CRAWFORD: The morphology to you was unlike anything you had ever seen before?
MCKIRDY: I’ve seen something similar. Like I know the difference between say seeing a Sevengill Shark and what I saw.
CRAWFORD: In terms of a sonar read?
MCKIRDY: On the sonar, yeah.
CRAWFORD: How do you tell a Sevengiller from what you saw?
MCKIRDY: Because it’s more slender. Certainly not as long, or as deep in the body. And of course, there is no predominant fin.
CRAWFORD: You have seen Sevengillers - both on sonar and in the water where they co-occur. When you see their sonar signal, you’re confident it’s a Sevengiller?
MCKIRDY: That I know. What I saw was not a Sevengiller.
CRAWFORD: Before we move one, please tell me a bit about the occurrence of Sevengillers in Milford Sound.
MCKIRDY: Sevengillers are always here. We don’t see them so often further out towards the coastal waters where we tend to dive. Occasionally, yes. Certainly, if we come further into the head of the fiord, the darker areas, then there are sites which are fairy reliable to see them. I’ve been face-to-face with them on a couple of occasions.
CRAWFORD: Do they interact with you?
CRAWFORD: Describe those interactions, please.
MCKIRDY: They usually stalk up from underneath. And they will come up to, generally about two metres close. I’ve had two divers at dusk filming for BBC in Harrison's Cove, filming Sea Dragons. And there was a film diver here, and a lighting diver here, and at a particular time of day the Sevengillers were letting them know it was their hunting time - time to get out of the water. He just swam right between them, and this was about a three metre shark.
CRAWFORD: This was at dusk?
MCKIRDY: Yeah. it was getting into the shadows, the light was getting low.
CRAWFORD: And to be clear, when you are running your regular dive charters, it's typically mid-day?
MCKIRDY: Mid-day, yeah. Generally, we'll get in the water just after noon, and get out around four.
CRAWFORD: That’s something I should have asked you before, but I’ll ask now. In all of the time that you have been diving, was there any indication from the dive community that you should avoid dawn and dusk?
MCKIRDY: Yeah, it’s common knowledge.
CRAWFORD: Is it because of sharks in general? Or White Pointers specifically? Well, I guess you hadn’t heard much about White Pointers at that time. What was the basis for avoiding dawn and dusk?
MCKIRDY: I think it’s more from the surfing community.
CRAWFORD: Ok. In terms of the Sevengillers that you have encountered, have you or your clients even had bumpings or bitings?
MCKIRDY: No, not personally. Nothing like that. I have heard distinctively stories of people who’ve gone night-diving in Milford, who have been bumped. But not in my operations.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Back to your observation of the Seal that had been bitten, and then shortly thereafter the sonar signature. Did you or any of your crew or your clients see a White Pointer that day?
CRAWFORD: But it definitely raised the distinct possibility, in that place, at that time?
MCKIRDY: Yes. And it alerted my mind to the fact that "Hold on. I have to accept, instead of putting it to the back of my mind, that occasionally there are White Pointers in here." To like "There is a White Shark in here, which of course then came around the following days." And that’s when I had a surface sighting.
CRAWFORD: Just before you get to the sighting ... Did you change your dive behaviour because of what you’d seen? With the Seal and the sonar signal?
MCKIRDY: Yeah. Now I sweep the dive site with the sonar first. Just checking that nothing’s hanging out, and potentially putting my motors in neutral and giving them a rev. Just to, you know, make a bit of noise.
CRAWFORD: To alert any potential shark in the region that you are there?
MCKIRDY: Maybe. [laughs]
CRAWFORD: Ok. Tell me about your sighting. Same location?
MCKIRDY: It was near. It was in the first dive site where we dive pretty much every day. Penguin Cove.
CRAWFORD: That’s on the north side?
MCKIRDY: It’s on the north side, and it’s about 800 metres in from Dale Point, being the end of the internal waters. We had already done our first dive, and it was a nice, quite sunny day. We were motoring out to show them the view out towards the Tasman Sea, and we were cruising out just at a few knots. I could very clearly see a very large fin in the water, and it certainly wasn’t a Dolphin. But I could also see the rear fin - like there was the distinct water between them.
CRAWFORD: So, this animal was cruising at the surface?
CRAWFORD: As we discussed before, it’s difficult to estimate, but under the circumstances - relative to something that you knew, like your vessel ... what do you reckon might be a reasonable estimate of the size of this shark?
MCKIRDY: I'd say it was about 3.5-4 metres. I don’t think it was a huge shark, but it was a big shark certainly.
CRAWFORD: And it was right at the mouth of Milford Sound?
MCKIRDY: Yeah, effectively.
CRAWFORD: In the middle of the sound?
MCKIRDY: It was swimming from what I would call North Dale point right there.
CRAWFORD: In what direction was it swimming?
MCKIRDY: Towards the southern side, so towards Greenstone.
CRAWFORD: Southward across the sound?
MCKIRDY: Yeah. And that’s where I’ve heard of other sightings - in Greenstone Bay as well.
CRAWFORD: You have?
MCKIRDY: Yeah. There's this distinct story last year. It was April the 7th. I remember that because it was Simone’s birthday. We were about to go diving, and we started quite late in the afternoon. The recreational guys were already coming back in after the morning’s fishing.
CRAWFORD: A 'morning's fishing' - do you mean rod and reel fishing or spearfishing?
MCKIRDY: I don’t know the answer to that.
CRAWFORD: Ok, that’s fine.
MCKIRDY: But one of the kayak managing guides who we have a good relationship with, he said "Just to let you know there was a White Shark, a big White Shark spotted at Greenstone Bay." And at the time, that would have been our second dive site, so it was quite good to get that piece of information beforehand.
CRAWFORD: You avoided that site then?
CRAWFORD: Greenstone Bay, that’s - where’s that relative to Anita Bay?
MCKIRDY: Just further in.
CRAWFORD: And are there Cray traps, holding traps there?
MCKIRDY: Often recreational, but yeah.
CRAWFORD: And there’s recreational diving that takes place there as well?
MCKIRDY: People will dive there, yes.
CRAWFORD: For Crayfish or sightseeing?
MCKIRDY: Yes, for Crayfish, but for scenic purposes as well.
CRAWFORD: At this point because you had a direct encounter, we need a frame of reference. [Discussion about project classification levels for human encounters with White Pointers: Level 1-Observation, Level 2-Swim-By, Level 3-Interest, Level 4-Intense] What level would you put the interaction with this White Pointer that you saw?
MCKIRDY: It would be closer to a Level 1, I guess.
CRAWFORD: No indication that the animal was responding to you?
MCKIRDY: No. Well, it went underwater, very casually.
CRAWFORD: Oh, it did? Did you approach?
MCKIRDY: Well, it was directly in front of the vessel.
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, it was crossing your path? And as you approached you saw, and it submerged?
MCKIRDY: Yeah. You know I had the chance to say “Shark!” And Simone turned around, and it was already going down, so she must have seen the back fin and she said "Oh. Well, if it was a shark it wasn’t a very big one."
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Alright. Did you mark anything on your sonar at the time?
CRAWFORD: Did you see any other sharks in that region, over that day, or the following week?
MCKIRDY: No. We dived Dale Point the next day, and I was comfortable while doing so.
CRAWFORD: Ok, good. Have you seen any other White Pointers in the Fiordland region?
Copyright © 2017 Lance McKirdy and Steve Crawford