Experience: Surf Boarder
Regions: Otago, Catlins, Foveaux Strait
Interview Location: Curio Bay, NZ
Interview Date: 10 January 2016
Post Date: 11 November 2017; Copyright © 2017 Nick Smart and Steve Crawford
3. WHITE POINTER DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE
CRAWFORD: Other than your experience here in Porpoise Bay, have you heard of any other encounters that boarders have had with White Pointers, anywhere else - up around Timaru, Kaka Point, or down around Foveaux Strait?
SMART: Not really.
CRAWFORD: Anything for Otago Peninsula, north or south?
SMART: No. I can’t say that I have.
CRAWFORD: What other kinds of encounters with White Pointers have you heard about?
SMART: Mostly abalone divers.
CRAWFORD: Pāua divers?
SMART: Stewart Island.
CRAWFORD: You heard from them directly?
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] In terms of their shark-human interaction Levels, what were the Pāua divers mostly describing?
CRAWFORD: Level 2's then, mostly? The animal would cruise by, and then be on its way?
SMART: That’s right.
CRAWFORD: Any of the Pāua divers you’ve talked to, did they tell you anything about Level 3’s? Heightened interest, circling, those kinds of things?
SMART: No, no.
CRAWFORD: Are you familiar with people who have been doing Pāua diving elsewhere?
SMART: Yeah, well I used to manage the boat for some Pāua divers.
CRAWFORD: You were a dinghy boy?
SMART: Yeah. I did that for quite a few years, further southwest along the coast years ago.
CRAWFORD: What region?
CRAWFORD: Ok. When you were a dinghy boy for Pāua operations in that region, did your divers ever have any encounters with White Pointers?
SMART: No. It was only on Stewart Island that I had heard of the drive-bys.
CRAWFORD: Nothing elsewhere from Foveaux Strait?
SMART: It’s more just that a lot of those guys surf, so I know them from surfing. But nah, I haven’t heard any of those shark stories from them. They do get hit by Sevengillers a lot out at Porridge Point. Last few years there have been a lot of incidences of Sevengillers coming up and bumping boards. That’s happening every few weeks almost.
CRAWFORD: It’s happening now every few weeks?
SMART: Yeah, quite regular.
CRAWFORD: Have you ever been bumped by a Sevengiller?
CRAWFORD: But for your boarding mates who have been bumped by a Sevengiller, describe that for me.
SMART: Just out surfing, and something just comes up and bumps your board ...
SMART: Well, I'm not sure the exact details. It can be from behind or underneath or from the side, but it’s generally not knocking you off the board. Because when you’re in the water, anything touches you, and you simply don’t know - it could be a bit of seaweed hit your leg, and you just know.
CRAWFORD: But when you consider that your legs are dangling when you’re sitting on your board ...
SMART: Yeah. Like chicken feet.
CRAWFORD: If a Sevengiller wanted to have a chunk out of your leg ...
SMART: It would.
CRAWFORD: It would but ...
SMART: But they don’t. They’re bumping.
CRAWFORD: Specifically, they’re bumping the board?
SMART: Well, a lot of the time the guys are lying down paddling, so their legs aren’t dangling then.
CRAWFORD: Okay fair enough, but their arms are out paddling. I mean, would it be fair to say that mostly it’s the board that’s being bumped, rather than the extremities of the person on the board?
SMART: It’s the board, yeah.
CRAWFORD: I know it’s difficult to say, but do you think that kind of bumping is a Level 3 for the Sevengillers? Is it their interest? Or is there some type of attitude or aggression or anything?
SMART: It’s probably just a bit of curious. Wanting to know what it is, give it a bump, work out what it is. I can’t eat it? Ok. But it still freaks guys out. They get out of the water, you know? Sort of.
CRAWFORD: Sure. You mentioned Porridge. Any other places where Sevengillers have been bumping boarders?
SMART: That’s where I’ve been hearing about it the most.
SMART: Because when you’re at Porridge Point there’s nothing from there - just straight out.
CRAWFORD: Let's get back to Otago and the Catlins. You've surfed a lot of that coastline?
SMART: Oh, everywhere. I’ve surfed every inch of that coast, all over. Kuri Bush, Brighton, Kilda, Sandfly Bay, Hooper’s Inlet, Allans Beach, Pipikaretu, Aramoana, Murderer's Beach, Purakaunui - there’s 2 Purakaunui's. Surfed at Goat Island, Warrington, Karitane, Shag Point, Moeraki ...
CRAWFORD: Let’s talk about the Otago Peninsula specifically for a bit. Any kind of White Pointer encounters from there that you know of?
SMART: Well, I must say at Aramoana.
CRAWFORD: Right. As a boarder, was there a culture among boarders, where people would talk about sharks?
SMART: Yep. Always. Especially in Dunedin.
CRAWFORD: What would the boarders say about the sharks?
SMART: Just look out.
CRAWFORD: So, you’d keep an eye out. But would they say there were particular places, or times of year, or day/night? Anything like that?
SMART: Well yeah, dawn and dusk. All surfers know dawn and dusk are shark feeding times. Sometimes down here - sometimes you think "Oh, I know I maybe shouldn't go out tomorrow morning very, very early because it is shark feeding time." And yet here I am about to get up at 4:30 tomorrow morning and go down the coast and surf. We’re going to be in the water just after dawn ...
CRAWFORD: I’m not jinxing anything here ...
SMART: No, no.
CRAWFORD: I’m just trying to get at the common knowledge within the boarding community?
SMART: Yeah, just keep your eyes open.
CRAWFORD: Keep your eyes open. And if you see a shark, you get out of there water?
SMART: Yeah. And let your friends know.
CRAWFORD: Yes. Were there particular shark hotspots around the Otago Peninsula?
SMART: Aramoana. Taiaroa Head.
CRAWFORD: Was this from people who saw sharks there?
SMART: Yes, yes.
CRAWFORD: Or was it kind of the accumulated common knowledge?
SMART: Well, there was a fishing club up there ...
CRAWFORD: Tautuku Fishing Club?
SMART: Yeah, Tautuku Fishing Club. We used to hang out at the Waterloo Tavern in Dunedin, which is just up from the beach, and that’s where the Tautuku Fishing Club was. We used to hang out with all the fishermen boys, and they’d tell us their stories. I remember one night we were up there, and saying we were going out to surf Aramoana the next day. One of the old boys just said "Oh you boys are not surfing out there" you know? And we’re like "Why’s that?" And he says "Oh well, I was out there fishing last week, and a big shark came upside the boat and blah blah blah." And we’re like "Yeah, yeah. We’ve heard it all before" you know? And then he went and got his VHS video recorder, and put it on, and we watched it, and you can see this White Pointer - all you could see was a fin, you know?
CRAWFORD: Yeah. But I mean he had evidence to back up his claim.
SMART: Yeah. And he told us we were not surfing out there.
CRAWFORD: Prior to this recreational fisherman telling you about White Pointers there, you had heard anything about White Pointers at Aramoana?
SMART: Yeah, just through the surfers. Dunedin surfers had always talked about sharks there because it is a very sharky place. Yet the iconic thing is that there has never ever been an attack on a surfer in Dunedin.
CRAWFORD: Ok. You said it was known that Aramoana is sharky, and you said Taiaroa Head is sharky too?
SMART: That’s right. Next door to each other.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear of a shark called KZ-7?
SMART: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Actually, I’ve been hearing that story today.
SMART: Yeah, well I’ve got the young guy down with me.
CRAWFORD: Oh. He wanted to know what our interview was going to be about?
SMART: Yeah. And I told him about the shark down the coast from here, and he goes “Oh, it must have been KZ-7.”
CRAWFORD: [laughs heartily] He brought that up?
SMART: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
CRAWFORD: That was 30 years ago!
SMART: Yeah, yeah. When I was younger and living in Dunedin, everyone used to talk about KZ-7. It was always a story about the old fishermen off Taiaroa Head, and they were in a boat, the boat was like 25-foot long, and a shark pulled up beside the boat, and it was longer than the boat! It was when the America’s Cup was on, and we had to call it KZ-7, named after the Kiwi boat.
CRAWFORD: Wow. Just to get that idea about how knowledge, whether it’s reliable knowledge or not, how it gets into the system. You have a 16-year-old kid down at Porpoise Bay, and he carries echoes of a White Pointer from 200 kilometres and 30 years away. That’s a hell of a legacy!
SMART: Yeah, yeah.
CRAWFORD: But my reason for asking whether you had heard about KZ-7, was that I have a reliable commercial fisherman from there who strongly suspected that people were actually seeing a Basking Shark, while I also have a reliable boarder who said he had a first-hand interaction there with a very large White Pointer.
SMART: I would believe the fisherman more than I’d believe the surfer.
CRAWFORD: Really? Why would you say that?
SMART: Just because fishermen are more onto it. They see more ocean stuff though their lives. They’re up on a boat looking down. A surfer lying on a board - you don’t have a very good range of visibility.
CRAWFORD: Ok. These are all valid points. But, in this particular case I’m going to ask you to reserve judgement until you read the transcripts of their interviews, because there are some exceptional circumstances for each.
SMART: Yeah, ok.
CRAWFORD: Right. Was there any kind of thinking among the boarders, or anybody else, about why Aramaona and Taiaroa Head had a reputation for being sharky?
SMART: The harbour. The harbour outlet there.
CRAWFORD: Yeah? And what about the Otago Harbour.
SMART: All the salmon coming out the harbour at certain times of year, or whenever. Because it is quite good salmon fishing in there at certain times of year. Surfers are always dubious about surfing river mouths, because they are a source of food.
CRAWFORD: Estuaries are often highly productive.
SMART: Yeah. So, if you’re going to be surfing on a mouth of an estuary or a harbour, naturally there’s going to be more sharks there.
CRAWFORD: And that’s just known within the boarding community?
SMART: It’s just common knowledge. All surfers worldwide pretty much. I reckon.
SMART: Including northern California.
CRAWFORD: I think you’re the first boarder to have brought that up, and I’m glad that you did. With regards specifically to the outlet of the Otago Harbour, was there anything about time of year that White Pointers were around?
SMART: It was February, March when those guys were involved in that incident down here ...
CRAWFORD: Down where?
SMART: Down at Haldane Bay. I told you my friends got rushed? [described below]
SMART: That was February, March. So, end of summer. And I know a lot of people always said White Pointers migrate up the coast at that time of year. But that’s not necessarily true.
CRAWFORD: Why do you say that?
SMART: Just going by what the guy who runs the shark dive operation used to say.
CRAWFORD: Which guy, Pete or Mike?
SMART: Peter. Peter Scott, yeah. He used to work on my uncle’s boat every so often. My uncles were fishermen. And Pete did his apprenticeship on my uncle’s boat. And after I did the shark dive, we got chatting, and realized we had connections. When we had the shark attack here [Porpoise Bay], pretty much a month afterwards I went and did the shark dive just to get ... I wanted to get familiar with sharks, because you know, there’d just been some guy chomped out here, and I’m otherwise surfing in some really dangerous places, offshore reefs, and all around. So, I just believed that if I’d been in a cage with sharks, I’d be a lot more comfortable if I ever see again one in the wild - which I do believe that’s true. I love sharks. I'm not scared of them, but if I’m in the water surfing, and one pops up, then naturally you would be a bit scared.
CRAWFORD: Okay, we’re going to get to the Porpoise Bay incident in a bit. But you said that some people said that the White Pointers are moving south to north along this stretch of the coastline, toward the Otago Peninsula.
SMART: Yeah, well Pete said that day on the boat, he said "You want to be careful June onwards." Because he does the shark dive down there, and it’s sort of busy autumn, early winter. And then he said once it starts getting winter, sort of June/July, those guys will start migrating up to warmer waters, and they’ll swim up the coast, and up to Fiji or wherever they go. So, he told me, he says in his experiences you want to be nice of the lookout in June, July. For those Stewart Island ones heading north to migrate to warm waters.
CRAWFORD: Up past this region?
SMART: Well, basically they go up to as far as Fiji.
CRAWFORD: I know, but you want to be careful in those months along this section of south-eastern South Island?
CRAWFORD: Alright. In terms of Otago Peninsula region - Brighton, St. Clair, St. Kilda ... was there anyplace else you ever heard, other than Aramona-Taiaroa Head at the tip of Otago Harbour? Did you ever hear about any other White Pointer encounters with boarders?
SMART: No, not with surfers.
CRAWFORD: With anybody else?
SMART: There was a guy killed by a White Pointer back in 1953. He was a Life Saver in a race at St. Kilda. And he got taken.
CRAWFORD: Did you hear about any other White Pointer incidences or attacks?
SMART: There was a diver who got taken in Otago Harbour, a long time ago in the late 50’s, early 60’s. He was attacked and killed by a shark.
CRAWFORD: Scuba diver or free diver?
SMART: I’m not sure about whether it was scuba or free. I think it was scuba but it was a long time ago. He was yeah, fatally wounded. I’m not sure that it was a White Pointer that got him, but he was fatally wounded.
CRAWFORD: Is there anything else about this region, that you ever heard of from mates or old-timers, that would have explained places or times that boarders had to be especially careful of. You said surfers worldwide are wary of dawn and dusk, and river mouths ... You know, that's kind of interesting, because the tavern manager up at Kaka Point, he was telling me "Oh there’s definitely no sharks here, because we’re at the mouth of an estuary for the Clutha River. And you don’t get sharks at the mouth of an estuary."
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Ok.
CRAWFORD: Anything else for this region that I should know about, in terms of distribution or abundance or White Pointers moving around? Or anything else that the boarders, or anyone else, would know?
SMART: No. But my friends are Pāua divers from Dunedin, and they quite often do the Nuggets. One friend did have bit of an encounter one day down on the south side and Roaring bay.
CRAWFORD: When would this have been, roughly?
SMART: Would have been eight years ago, maybe nine years ago.
CRAWFORD: And he was Pāua diving at the time?
CRAWFORD: From shore or from a dinghy?
SMART: From a dinghy. Yeah, he’s always got the dinghy there.
CRAWFORD: And he’s a commercial Pāua diver?
SMART: Commercial diver, yeah. They were out there, and they just kind had a bit of a funny feeling. He came up to the surface, and then he looked, and he could just see there was something moving underwater ... you know the bow wake? There was something in the water moving towards him, and he couldn't really see the fin, but he could see the water rise and then peel off, you know? Like a submarine - you know, when a submarine’s just underwater? And they could see the bow wake coming their way.
CRAWFORD: There were two of them?
SMART: Yeah. Two of them in the water, and one of the guys jumped in the boat and ...
CRAWFORD: He saw a White Pointer coming?
SMART: Nah. They didn’t even see a shark. All they seen was the bow wake on the surface coming towards them. It was a wee way away, maybe 30 metres, so they just jumped into the boat. But hey you know, it could have been a Sea Lion.
CRAWFORD: Right. Ok, before we get to the recent incident here at Porpoise Bay, any other White Pointer incidences that you’ve heard of in this region? Between the Nuggets and Slope Point?
SMART: No, but one thing I will say - it’s very interesting, a local fisherman, 4th generation fisherman here ...
CRAWFORD: Who’s that?
SMART: Wayne Stronach. His father has been fishing here - he’s about 4th generation, so they’ve been fishing a long time. And now the son’s taken over the fishing business. And he has never, ever, ever seen a White Pointer on his fishing boat - ever.
CRAWFORD: Wayne Stronach?
SMART: Yeah, and his brother Vaughan. Wayne and Vaughan and the father is Allan Stronach, he’s retired now. But those guys have never got any shark stories to tell.
CRAWFORD: The two brothers, are they fishing one vessel together?
SMART: Well they had two vessels, but now they just fish one.
CRAWFORD: What’s that vessel called?
SMART: It’s called Strathallan.
CRAWFORD: And where does it sail from?
SMART: Out at Waikawa Harbour, down here at the mouth.
CRAWFORD: Are they Cod fishermen? Or trawlermen? Or setnetters?
SMART: Yeah, Cod fishermen, Codpots.
CRAWFORD: Ok, thanks for those leads.
Copyright © 2017 Nick Smart and Steve Crawford