Experience: Commercial Skipper, Commercial Fisherman
Regions: Otago, Chathams, Fiordland, Stewart Island
Interview Location: Milford Sound, NZ
Interview Date: 07 February 2016
Post Date: 01 December 2017; Copyright © 2017 Lewis Huia and Steve Crawford
3. WHITE POINTER DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE
CRAWFORD: What was the first time that you remember either hearing about or seeing a White Pointer?
HUIA: I heard about them when I was a child, growing up in Dunedin.
CRAWFORD: What was the circumstance?
HUIA: It wasn't necessarily a White Pointer, but it was the shark attacks.
CRAWFORD: You are referring to the shark attacks at St. Clair and St. Kilda?
HUIA: That’s right.
CRAWFORD: Roughly how old were you?
HUIA: I was fairly young, 19 or so.
CRAWFORD: What do you recall, growing up in that neighborhood when the attacks occurred? What did you hear about them?
HUIA: Just how it was quite dangerous because of the sharks swimming on the beaches.
CRAWFORD: Were there people talking about how dangerous the beaches were?
CRAWFORD: Had they talked that way before the attacks? Or was it more in response to those specific attacks?
HUIA: Yeah, because of the attacks. And sharks had been seen there.
CRAWFORD: Was there a kind of hysteria associated with it? Were people overly concerned?
HUIA: There was a definite concern, I wouldn't call it hysteria. Well, the way the news was presented - you could call it a form of hysteria. Because it has a big impact on the young teenagers.
CRAWFORD: That is basically what I'm getting at. Did the old-timers ever tell the kids "You have to be careful of sharks there especially, or that time of year?" Anything like that? Was there embedded knowledge in the community, where you got advice like that from the old-timers?
HUIA: I think there must have been some reference from the older people, about the evidence of shark attacks. Once again, everything was sensationalized due to the newspapers.
CRAWFORD: Was there anything in terms of particular locations along the coastline, or time of the day, or proximity to certain features?
HUIA: Times. The attacks were during the day, but that's when people are in the water.
CRAWFORD: Right. So, you've got a group of attacks that take place in a very small geographic region, over a short period of time - and then nothing. There weren't any attacks before. And then bang, bang, bang. And then nothing again. What did you, or your mates, or your family think about that?
HUIA: Well, to be honest, nobody really worried about that, after the shark nets were put out.
CRAWFORD: Really? So, there was a sense of security from those shark nets?
HUIA: That’s right.
CRAWFORD: Did you see the shark nets? Did you see the floats, or the guy who was tending the shark nets?
HUIA: Yeah, you could see the floats.
CRAWFORD: Did you know anything about the distribution of the nets?
HUIA: I was surprised at how much wasn't out there - put it that way.
CRAWFORD: Yes, it was a fairly small percentage of the beaches that was being covered. Did you ever hear anything about what was being caught in those nets, if anything?
HUIA: No, not until later on. Because I know the fisherman that was responsible for those nets.
CRAWFORD: Which fisherman?
HUIA: Graeme Fraser, out of Taieri Mouth.
CRAWFORD: Right. But you were a Dunedin boy, and you were right there at the Otago Peninsula ... When you were growing up, was there any reference to the idea that the Peninsula, especially out at Taiaroa Head, had a lot of White Pointers?
HUIA: I know out at Aramoana, there was a well-known photograph taken of a guy surfing there, and there was a fin just off to the side of him.
HUIA: Do you know where this photo is?
HUIA: Tautuku Fishing Club. They should have that picture, because it was there when I was there years ago. I had been out fishing in one of their competitions.
CRAWFORD: Thank you for that lead. What do you know about sharks out around Aramoana? Did you hear anything about sharks or shark-human incidences there?
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear of a White Pointer called KZ-7?
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear from the old-timers, or any of your mates, anything about White Pointers in Otago Harbour? Either the upper harbour or the lower harbour?
HUIA: No, I didn't.
HUIA: No. I spent a lot of time when I was younger out at Long Beach.
CRAWFORD: Any shark sightings there?
HUIA: Not that I recall.
CRAWFORD: In general, throughout your maritime experience, have you ever seen a White Pointer in the wild?
HUIA: No. The only shark I've ever seen was here in Milford Sound. And it was because the visibility of the water was quite clear. It was as long as one of these tables [approx two metres]. All I can remember was that it was a sort of blue colour, but it had a big tail, the top part of the tail was long. It was a Mako or Thresher or something like that.
CRAWFORD: The period of time that you were fishing at the Chathams, did you hear anything about White Pointers from the old-timers there?
HUIA: At Port Hutt, some very interesting stories. One day I wasn't working, so I went out in one of the Crayfishing boats, and they were talking about sharks as big as freight trains going underneath the boat while they were hauling pots. And also there was another fisherman using danlines, he floated it up with a 12-gallon drum, and he never saw it again. A 12-gallon drum, is quite a bit of buoyancy.
CRAWFORD: That would be a big animal, of one kind or another, to take that down.
HUIA: That's for real.
CRAWFORD: Back in the day when you spent time at Stewart Island, did you hear from people that the places that you were fishing - Ruggedy, Codfish, and South Cape - were those areas known to be sharky?
HUIA: The guys said that they had seen sharks. They didn't feel threatened by them, but they had seen some large sharks around Ruggedy.
CRAWFORD: When you were in Paterson Inlet, or you talked to people whole spent time in Paterson Inlet, did anybody talk about seeing White Pointers in the Inlet?
CRAWFORD: Did you know people who spent any significant amount of time around the northern Titi Islands?
HUIA: No, not really. But there were always stories about sharks, especially from the fishermen.
CRAWFORD: But when you were there, that was back in the day, prior to the Department of Conservation tagging the White Pointers, or the cage dive operations?
HUIA: Yeah, that’s right. That was before. But I never heard of any fatalities from sharks. I'd heard of close encounters, especially by Pāua divers.
CRAWFORD: Around Stewart Island?
CRAWFORD: What the Pāua divers say in terms of places ... if there was going to be a White Pointer interaction, where would it likely be?
HUIA: Around the Ruggedies, Codfish.
CRAWFORD: The same places you were fishing, but you never saw any White Pointers there?
HUIA: No, I never saw any. I was on the dinghy as well, down at South Cape.
CRAWFORD: In your time at the Auckland Islands, when you were on that research trip down there, was there any indication of White Pointers down there? Anything that they talked about?
HUIA: No, not regarding sharks.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever see Basking Sharks anywhere in New Zealand coastal waters?
CRAWFORD: Ok. Let's get back to Milford Sound and the Fiordland coastline. Through those thousands of scenic tours, and all of the coastal trips that you have made along here, you said you have not seen any White Pointers. To your knowledge, have the old-timers, or any of your contemporaries, ever seen White Pointers in Milford Sound?
HUIA: Maybe on the odd occasion, a fishermen would have seen one. The Crayfishermen talk about seeing sharks.
CRAWFORD: When they're outside of the Sound?
HUIA: Yeah, that's right.
CRAWFORD: How far south would that be?
CRAWFORD: Any reports of interactions with these sharks, or interactions with their fishing gear?
HUIA: Not that I can remember.
CRAWFORD: Specifically with regards to Milford Sound, I'm learning that wind and precipitation can have major effects on surface conditions and water visibility.
HUIA: Visibility isn't very good at all. I've dived in here as well.
CRAWFORD: As in a couple of metres visibility?
HUIA: Could be more sometimes, it could vary/
CRAWFORD: What would be the minimum visibility?
HUIA: Less than a metre.
CRAWFORD: What accounts for that decrease in visibility?
HUIA: The tannin in the freshwater. They always say the visibility in freshwater is not as good as it is in saltwater.
CRAWFORD: The freshwater layer that sits on top of the saltwater layer, what would be the maximum depth of that freshwater lens?
HUIA: I know for a fact that the Underwater Observatory lost their black coral garden due to freshwater on at least two occasions. I think they can lower those baskets down to 14 metres.
CRAWFORD: With regards to the extended periods of time when it does not rain, is it the case that visibility in the sound improves gradually?
HUIA: It's amazing, yeah.
CRAWFORD: How long for no rain conditions until you notice a significant change of this visibility? Days, weeks?
CRAWFORD: And when there is an increase of visibility like that, do you notice more things in the surface waters, when viewing from the bridge or the deck?
HUIA: We get in fairly close to the rock wall. There are a few places where you can see Seals here. And there is quite a large infestation of starfish, so if you can see those - I mean, the visibility is quite good.
CRAWFORD: Right. In terms of the extent out the sound for that freshwater effect that you notice, how far out would that be still noticeable?
HUIA: Just off Dale Point, at the entrance of the fiord. You can see it breaking down, because you can see the colour difference in the water.
CRAWFORD: Give me a sense of the types of animals that you have seen under very good water visibility - things that you normally would not see if that thinner layer of freshwater with tannin was sitting on the top?
HUIA: Leopard Seals.
HUIA: It was funny, the first time I saw a Leopard Seal, it was the same place where I saw that long-tailed shark, just around the corner from here. That would have been more coincidence than science.
CRAWFORD: Well, sometimes science relies pretty heavily on coincidences. Even single observations that only happen once in a lifetime can tell you very important things about the animals. During those periods of extreme good visibility here in Milford Sound, any other types of unusual observations under those conditions?
HUIA: The only thing I can think is Leopard Seals. Maybe the odd shark, but nothing that I would have recognized.
Copyright © 2017 Lewis Huia and Steve Crawford