Experience: Commercial Fisherman, Cruise Crew, Cruise Skipper
Regions: Canterbury, Cook Strait, Northland, Chathams, Fiordland, Stewart Island
Interview Location: Milford Sound, NZ
Interview Date: 07 February 2016
Post Date: 01 December 2017; Copyright © 2017 Max Darroch and Steve Crawford
4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE
CRAWFORD: What was the first time you recall hearing about, or potentially seeing, a White Pointer?
DARROCH: The first time would probably be - hell, the mid to late '60s.
CRAWFORD: That would have been in your teens?
DARROCH: Yeah, I was 17.
CRAWFORD: And you would have been in Timaru?
CRAWFORD: So, as a younger kid in Timaru, White Pointers weren’t on your radar screen?
DARROCH: Not really, no. We heard of them, but I never actually took them very seriously.
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, when you were a kid, when you were swimming on the beaches, did you ever have a situation where the beach was closed, someone put up a warning flag for a shark, or anything like that?
DARROCH: It was once. My brother lived in Whangarei, right at the top of North Island. And when I was a child, we used to go up and visit him. There was one time there, that we were to get out of the water because there was something out there. I didn’t see what it was, just saw a fin way off.
CRAWFORD: No one went to check on it? Likely a shark, but no one really knew what kind?
DARROCH: Nobody knew, no. We just saw a fin.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Anything else about White Pointers from when you were in Timaru?
DARROCH: There was a lot of rig caught off Timaru. Sometimes you would get a whole net full of these bloody things. And there used to be a shark, this bloody enormous thing - he turned up every year off Timaru. [laughs]
CRAWFORD: How far offshore?
DARROCH: Oh, not far. Twelve miles.
CRAWFORD: This was your trawling grounds?
DARROCH: Yes, this is where we were fishing. And of course, we were picking up those bloody things. There was bloody fish everywhere on the surface, and this shark used to just mosey around the boats while we were trawling the gear. The closest I ever saw it was probably from here to the rock wall. But as I said, I only saw this massive great fin. And somebody told me that it was a White Pointer, but I can’t be sure.
CRAWFORD: So, you reckon that you were 30 metres or so from the animal when you saw it. What did you figure it was doing around the boats? Was it feeding on discards that were coming out of the trawler?
CRAWFORD: Were you cleaning fish at the time?
DARROCH: No, but other boats were cleaning.
CRAWFORD: It could have been that the shark was responding to the smell of the burley trail from the fish that were being cleaned. Or you said before that there were a lot of fish floating on the surface that had been killed in the trawl, and then you had selectively dumped them over the side.
CRAWFORD: The old-timer, he said that this was a White Pointer?
DARROCH: Yeah. He came around every year, yeah. I saw him when I was a kid. I saw him for two years in a row, but then he disappeared. I heard later on from other people that he actually came back. How long do they live for?
CRAWFORD: Oh, these animals can get up there, a lot more than what most people think. They can get up past 50 years.
DARROCH: Hell. Is that right?
CRAWFORD: Yeah, yeah.
DARROCH: Well, I wonder if it was the same one, or a different one?
CRAWFORD: That’s part of the reason for me asking the question. How would you know if you saw it one year, and then maybe saw it the next year. Did it have some distinguishing features?
DARROCH: No. Not that I saw.
CRAWFORD: It was just big?
DARROCH: Yeah, he was a big fella.
CRAWFORD: You saw a big fish. And then you saw a big fish again the next year and you reckoned, maybe it’s the same one?
CRAWFORD: Did the old-timers ever talk about individual White Pointers that had some kind of distinctive mark? Or anything on them that they knew for sure it was resident? If it was either around for a long period of time, or it came back along a migration across years?
DARROCH: Well, that’s what I understood. Though no one mentioned any markings on it.
CRAWFORD: Ok. That was during your teen years in Timaru, including offshore trawling. Was there anyone else that reported seeing White Pointers in that region?
DARROCH: Not really, not that I can recall. That’s the only part of the coast that I’ve seen them. Well, that was one.
CRAWFORD: If that was a White Pointer, was that the only White Pointer you saw around Timaru?
CRAWFORD: Ok. From Nelson, you went to the Chathams?
DARROCH: It was Chathams before Nelson, actually. It was before I bought my own boat. Went over there for the Crayfishing boon, way back in the ‘60s. We went across there on a boat from Timaru in the summer.
CRAWFORD: And how much time did you spend at the Chathams?
DARROCH: Six months.
CRAWFORD: You saw White Pointers there?
DARROCH: Yeah, yeah.
CRAWFORD: Roughly, how many did you see?
DARROCH: Oh, I saw probably three. There’s lots and lots and lots of stories over there about them.
CRAWFORD: Yes, there are. Tell me about the animals that you saw.
DARROCH: Well, the ones I saw, probably 6-8 feet long, maybe. They weren’t overly big, the ones I saw. But I know there are bigger ones than that.
CRAWFORD: What were the circumstances that you saw these 6-8 footers?
DARROCH: We were at anchor at night, and they were just cruising around the bay that we were anchored in.
CRAWFORD: Do you know if they were travelling in a group, or were they individuals?
DARROCH: There were just two or three. Whether there was a group somewhere else, I don’t know. But the ones that I saw, there were just two or three.
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] When you saw the smaller sharks at the Chathams, what Level of interaction would that have been?
DARROCH: A swim-by I would say, a Level 2. There was one story though. There were a lot around at the time, and there were a lot of divers, and they would just dive down and pick up the Crayfish. This particular guy, he’d seen a couple of White Pointers so he employed a young fella to sit on his boat while he was diving. In those days, they didn’t have the rules or regulations that we have these days. He got this young fellow to sit on his boat, and he says "When I come to the surface and see that shark, you come and get me - in a hurry." So the young fella was sitting there. And he popped to the surface, and he said "Shark!" So the guy said "Right!" So he threw the hammers down on the boat, it was a little wee speedboat, and of course it took off like a rocket, and of course he fell backwards to the back of the boat. And the guy's in the water - with the shark below, and the boat on the surface. [laughs]. I think that night he went to the pub, he sold his boat, and sold all his diving gear.
CRAWFORD: By 'diving gear,' I'm presuming that means he was scuba diving for Crayfish, as opposed to free diving.
Copyright © 2017 Max Darroch and Steve Crawford