Experience: Nature Tour Skipper, Boater
Interview Location: Dunedin, NZ
Interview Date: 04 December 2015
Post Date: 08 July 2017; Copyright © 2017 Nigel Young and Steve Crawford
3. WHITE POINTER DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE
CRAWFORD: What is your first recollection that there was this animal called a White Pointer in New Zealand coastal waters? First memories?
YOUNG: As young kids. swimming at the holiday house. I remember swimming, with a life guard yelling “shark!” And we’d have to get out of the water. This happened a number of times. Not sure how often it was valid.
CRAWFORD: Were you less than ten?
YOUNG: Yes, probably three, four or five years old.
CRAWFORD: Maybe not White Pointer in particular, but a shark in a beach environment. In that context, did you ever see a shark?
YOUNG: Yes. This is one time which is strong in my memory, and whether it be a Great White, as I thought it was at the time, I don’t know.
CRAWFORD: How old?
YOUNG: Really young, maybe four or five.
YOUNG: Bay of Islands, looking down from a hill to a little cove in the beach.
CRAWFORD: Time of year?
CRAWFORD: Time of day?
YOUNG: Midday. There was a shark just cruising the beach in the shallows. It was a white sand beach, and we were looking down from above. We could see a clear silhouette of this big animal with shark swimming motion. It was obviously a large shark. We watched in silence - the motion of the shark swimming so close to the beach. It went around the bay, and then left. That is a vivid memory where it was very close and menacing. I felt the scale of it, I think it must have been a Great White Shark.
CRAWFORD: You said it was, or was not, menacing?
YOUNG: It fits in with the shout of “Shark!” on a beach, and the collective terror of the people running out. Everyone just wants to go in the water, so everyone’s asking “Is it gone yet?”
CRAWFORD: Do you remember anything about shape or coloration?
YOUNG: It was silhouetted, so it was dark. I remember in exact detail. Shape of that very broad stomach, head. And it really comes out and narrows to the tail.
CRAWFORD: Tell me more about its swimming behaviour.
YOUNG: Quite close to the beach. Fluid and slow, symmetrical and graceful. It was calm.
CRAWFORD: Did it come back at any point?
YOUNG: It just followed the coast line, and then moved on. It came in close to the sandy bay, and then went out beyond the rocks.
CRAWFORD: Total amount of time looking down, was anything there around it?
YOUNG: No, nothing was there.
CRAWFORD: Notice anything about the mouth or the fins?
YOUNG: No, the fin was underwater. We could just see the shape of the shark.
CRAWFORD: total amount of time that you saw it?
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]. Using this system, if you were on shore and up, this would have been a Level 1?
CRAWFORD: Have you seen any other White Pointers, or animals that could have been White Pointers, in the rest of the time that you have been around New Zealand coastal waters?
CRAWFORD: Back to your North Island days. You obviously had the experience of swimming around these beaches, and it was very real - both the shark alarm but also the associated behaviour. Do you remember if the old-timers had said anything about sharks? “Do this” or “Don’t do that”?
YOUNG: No. Our mom would have told us to listen to the lifeguard, and she would have been worried about us in the water, and we would have had to hop out quick. But otherwise, I can’t really remember much advice coming about sharks.
CRAWFORD: At the holiday house, do you remember other experiences that other people may have had with sharks?
YOUNG: No. My uncle ran a fishing boat out of Northland, Doubtless Bay, catching Snapper mostly.
CRAWFORD: But did anyone else have any Level 1 to 4 interactions?
CRAWFORD: Ok. That’s northern North Island. You also spent a significant amount of time around Wellington. You’ve already said that you never saw any White Pointers. But did the old-timers ever say anything about them?
YOUNG: No. I must admit I can’t remember any advice or discussions about what they may have seen. I was young. The movie ‘Jaws’ came out - this really brushes across my whole memory. That movie was discussed, and the image of the shark was created, and still continues in the vein from that movie. I remember it being very influential for me.
CRAWFORD: How did it influence you?
CRAWFORD: How would this have changed your behaviour, would you not have gone swimming because of that movie?
YOUNG: It’s a factor. I used to swim a lot more in shore, and it was a big part of my thinking when I was in the water. It was a big part of my determination to not fall prey to these paranoias when I’m in the water. It’s a big part of when I’m in the water as to is there anything. Looking around, “Don’t be silly, there’s nothing there.” But it’s paranoia with I think little foundation outside that movie.
CRAWFORD: When you say little foundation, does that mean that you hadn’t heard anything from any other credible source?
YOUNG: I knew there had been shark attacks, been people killed. Taken by sharks, down here and up there. But there may have been one person died 15 years ago, with no recorded bite for over a decade. And there are how many people in the water every day? So, the rationale is that the chances are so small that to be thinking of it this much, it just becomes a paranoia. This is how I legitimize it in my mind - that you should go swimming if you want to go swimming. This should not be a factor. It’s a factor of keeping people out of the water for sure. There must be something human to that predator-prey relationship that makes the paranoia more vivid.
CRAWFORD: Just to round out your Wellington-Cooks Strait experience. The time that you spent there, in that region did the old-timers ever say anything about White Pointers?
YOUNG: Not that I recall.
CRAWFORD: In terms of your later years, you’ve had experience in the Otago region, and you’ve also have some experience taking people out on Milford Sound. In those contexts, you never saw any white sharks when you were there - but while you were there, did you ever hear of anyone else, the old-timers or your contemporaries, talk about White Pointers?
CRAWFORD: With regards to your most recent experiences as skipper of the Monarch, you’ve made hundreds of trips along the Otago Harbour, out past Aramoana and the Mole, past the Taiaroa Heads - and you have never seen any White Pointers during those trips?
CRAWFORD: And your job is to be looking for wildlife?
YOUNG: I spend a lot of time attached to the binoculars. If I saw anything unusual, we would just take the boat over to check it out.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Let’s divide things by region. For the upper harbour, have you ever see any sharks?
CRAWFORD: In the lower harbour, ever see any sharks?
CRAWFORD: For either upper or lower harbour, have you heard of anyone who had seen a shark?
YOUNG: Just through the photos. The photo of the Great White that was captured, and there are some photos in the museum, and some in the literature of the Great White. Macandrew Bay, wasn’t there one of a jaw? That was in the 1920’s or 30’s or something.
CRAWFORD: Almost 100 years ago.
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, you have been exposed to the presence of White Pointers in this region, historically. Do you ever talk to the local fishermen?
CRAWFORD: Do they ever say that they’ve seen something?
CRAWFORD: In the outer harbour, there’s a much larger fleet in the other side, at Port Chalmers-Carey’s Bay. What do you know about the activities of those vessels, specifically in terms of fishing?
YOUNG: I know they fish for different species throughout the year. So, they change their gear according to the season. The abundance and patterns. They are quite consistent when they go out and come back in. Whenever they are coming from a little bit, and the weather around when you’re likely to go out or not. Otherwise we do work at Carey’s Bay sometimes. We always wave when we’re going through. Now and then, we’ll get a call from some boats if there’s something of interest such as a whale sighting.
CRAWFORD: And you’ve not heard anything from the fishing fleet on the other side about White Pointers?
YOUNG: Understand that as a conservation boat, a boat engaged in eco-tourism, we probably wouldn’t be too privy to some of the conversations that fisherman would have between each other. We do share the same harbour, but we are not birds of a feather. There are legalities around catching and cleaning of fish around the harbour entrance which may have been put in place to preserve the integrity of the wildlife around the Heads. And the fisherman may in some way feel disgruntled, and perhaps some of that sentiment may be directed towards to the eco-tourism industry.
CRAWFORD: With regard to cleaning fish around the harbour, what do you know about the history of that issue?
YOUNG: The fisherman clean the catch on the way home. There will be someone driving the boat at the helm. And they will be gutting and filleting fish, depending on the species, on the way home. This would occur as you travel back in. Bringing the birds and other animals in with them, as there is food in bite-size chunks. They would have a big plume of birds behind them. This becomes a bit of a bird magnet.
CRAWFORD: Was this your experience since you’ve been here?
YOUNG: Always the case.
CRAWFORD: So, if you see a big group of birds behind a fishing boat is it very likely the case that boat is processing their catch?
YOUNG: Sometimes its hosing. The birds will be drawn by the smell. They will often be drawn. You can tell by the species, and numbers of the birds, whether or not there is actually food in the water or being pushed over the boat, or whether it is just that they are cleaning their fishing gear.
CRAWFORD: What are the hallmarks for that?
YOUNG: The big birds that we focus on, ocean species like Giant Petrels and different species of Albatross.
CRAWFORD: If you see those birds behind a boat …
YOUNG: There is proper food to be had. Some of the boats bring in a wide array of species, in sheer quantities and diversity. Hundreds of birds around one boat. This is obvious from a long way out. This has importance for us because we have people coming a long way to see these unusual species. These birds fly naturally up and down the coast, and when there’s food at a boat, they go there. So, if we are looking for birds, and a boat is coming in, the chance of seeing a bird in our location is reduced because many of the birds go where the food is.
CRAWFORD: And you don’t feed?
YOUNG: No, we don’t feed. We find them anyway. It just takes a bit more work to find them. When we do, its natural contact.
CRAWFORD: You mentioned the issue of cleaning fish around the mouth of the harbour.
YOUNG: Some legislation came out … wasn’t it about three or four years ago? It was in relation to Albatross, the bycatch of Albatross. The damage being done to Albatross saw new regulations around how close to shore the fishermen were allowed to clean fish. Regulations started coming to us about how they were to dispose of their offload. Could be frozen, and dumped in as blocks, or dumped at night. But there were some new regulations about how it was to be disposed of.
CRAWFORD: Is this just in the Otago Peninsula context? Or New Zealand-wide?
YOUNG: I don’t know.
CRAWFORD: Who can I follow up with about the legislation?
YOUNG: Shawn Hazeltine.
CRAWFORD: Interesting that there is this connection between the offloading and the Albatross, as a key part of the discussion. You also talked about it in a broader context of birds following boats while they are processing or cleaning. Perhaps other things would follow as well. Do you know of any observations of sharks following fishing boats?
YOUNG: Possibly. We have for instance the sea lion. That’s a big predator that we see on a regular basis. Sometimes you see fishermen cleaning fish and dropping cod frames, in comes a Sea Lion, a big beast, maybe 400 kg. This is a marine mammal with a highly attuned sense of smell and movement far in excess of anything we have, and they are intelligent. Probably knows the boat, time, season, the likelihood of there being food. Smells it, sees it. Comes to check it out. It cruises around where it got success in the past, and is a lot more prevalent around there. So now there are efforts to stop dropping the frames there, because kids are swimming nearby. Sometimes the kids are swimming there and you might have seen this massive big Sea Lion one or two hours before at 2 m depth, right in same spot. What we really are reliant on is the intelligence of the Sea Lion to know the difference, and have the taste and preference of the fish frames rather than the kids. These animals aren’t silly. We underrate their intelligenc but are also tempting fate. So, dropping fish frames is now banned and the fishermen are taking their guts and frames out to deep water, at some cost to themselves.
CRAWFORD: Roughly when did these regulations change?
YOUNG: One or two years ago.
CRAWFORD: Would that be a Ministry of Primary Industries issue?
YOUNG: The local policemen enforce it. Not MPI.
CRAWFORD: We were discussing the upper and lower harbour. Have you heard of anyone else who has seen White Pointers in the harbour?
CRAWFORD: How far offshore does your work on the Monarch take you?
YOUNG: We usually go four nautical miles offshore. Very occasionally six or so. Sometimes alongshore of Cape Saunders. We don’t tend to follow the shoreline. But the abundance is further off. We head off, and then down. We might come back for the shelf at some point, depending on the wind, but we tend to go on an arc here.
CRAWFORD: But you have a substantial offshore component for the Monarch tours?
YOUNG: After half an hour we would have completed the trip from Wellers Rock, and had a close look around the Taiaroa Head - that’s where we really are close, looking at the Seal colony, the Shag colony, the Spoonbill colony, the Royal Albatross colonies, and after that half hour, we’ll head out offshore. And we’ll have that half an hour going out looking and then coming back to the wharf. So that will normally give us maybe a 15 minute window of freedom, when the skipper and the crew are looking after the guests, and looking for where the abundance lies.
CRAWFORD: In terms of sharks offshore, you already said you haven’t seen any White Pointers. Have you seen any sharks at all?
YOUNG: Yes, Blue Sharks occasionally. But I don’t really know the difference from a fin. It’s very rare, and it’s only at those key times when the fish are swarming and the krill are soup.
CRAWFORD: What season is that, typically?
YOUNG: Mostly summer. It comes from summer into autumn.
CRAWFORD: What do you know about the marine ecological productivity in the Otago Peninsula region? And the factors that affect the productivity?
YOUNG: This is a combination of factors, of course, that makes this an area of abundance. Most influential is the Southern Current coming up the coast, and the sub-tropical water off the Tasman Sea coming round the Foveaux Strait, then coming up here. It’s species-rich but nutrient poor, this Southern Current. It’s relatively warm water for us, and comes up quite quickly along the coast. Then it gets pushed away, following Cape Saunders, and here there’s an eddy.
CRAWFORD: Just north of the peninsula, there’s a back eddy caused by the Southern Current?
YOUNG: Due to the shape of the Otago Peninsula, and that almost 90 degree corner of Cape Saunders. The Southern Current gets pushed away, and comes back in around Blueskin Bay and the mouth of the Otago Harbour.
CRAWFORD: How does that back eddy relate then to the nutrients and species richness?
YOUNG: Here’ve you’ve got the cold sub-Antarctic water from further offshore, that is all those species-poor, nutrient-rich waters.
CRAWFORD: And do the two currents collide? Do they mix?
YOUNG: They mix. I think these tide lines as they spin … there’s a mixing process. But particularly around that boundary of those mixing currents, the tide lines, there’s a blossoming of phytoplankton.
CRAWFORD: On a regional basis, where are the hot spots - from your understanding?
YOUNG: That changes with the speed and flow and the tides.
CRAWFORD: So, directly off the Otago Peninsula, off Cape Saunders - that would be a particularly rich area?
YOUNG: Yes, as I see it in my experience of this little piece of this big coast!
CRAWFORD: Is your experience based largely on visual observations of the birds, and what the birds are doing?
YOUNG: Yes, and the water itself. The colors of the water. The difference is evident to the eye.
CRAWFORD: What color characteristics?
YOUNG: Shades of blue. Light blue and dark blue.
CRAWFORD: What do the southern waters look like?
YOUNG: Just the different bodies of water. And between them you’ve got detritus. This is obvious in the water bubbles, but weird rubbish. Lots of sea weed, all different types.
CRAWFORD: How do you think the currents around the Otago Peninsula might relate to the distribution and abundance of White Pointers here?
YOUNG: I’ve heard the southern current finished here. A dead end. The Great Whites follow this warmer flow, and then it comes to the end, so they go back. This is what I understand. Don’t know where I heard it.
CRAWFORD: Like a corridor?
YOUNG: Like a dead end, like a cul-de-sac.
CRAWFORD: If the White Pointers were following this water mass, up this conveyor belt …
YOUNG: Yes, then it stops. There’s colder water because of that cold inflow. So there’s this period of feeding and then a decision to turn around and head back. So maybe they cluster at the end of the cul-de-sac?
CRAWFORD: That with the combination of the presence of abundant food. That’s very interesting - I’ve never heard that before. You’re quite correct, the three places that come up consistently as New Zealand White Pointer hotspots are Stewart Island, Otago Peninsula and the Chatham Islands. Which seem to be connected by a single, major current.
YOUNG: Very long-ranging animals.
CRAWFORD: They certainly can be.
YOUNG: The Orca … we thought we knew Orca. And then these different behaviours and breeds emerge. I’m sure it is the same for the Great Whites.
CRAWFORD: Tell me about the marine mammals on the Otago Peninsula.
YOUNG: The Fur Seals go to these deepwater canyons. They are here because of reliable fishing.
CRAWFORD: Eight km offshore?
YOUNG: Ten miles offshore. We’ve got these deepwater canyons where the water drops away.
CRAWFORD: And those canyons are loaded with fish?
YOUNG: Yes, in these upwellings there are squid, Arrow Squid particularly, that do a vertical migration, It always tries to keep with the light at a constant level, so at the night time, it comes up closer to the surface.
CRAWFORD: So, a daily vertical migration, and the Seals are actively feeding on the Squid?
CRAWFORD: Fish as well?
YOUNG: The Seals feed on the fish as well, yes.
CRAWFORD: So, very rich aquatic productivity, and then you’ve got Seals that are taking advantage of that proximity - going out there and feeding.
YOUNG: And a place to raise their young.
CRAWFORD: You believe that for Seals it is a combination of good feeding and a good place to raise their young?
YOUNG: Yes. I think the types of terrain here, the rocks, and relative protection, of the Otago Peninsula. Being not that populated, and topographically challenging for people who go there. Less disturbance, some protection, the Seals can breed here in relative peace. With that abundance of food just off the shore, you know, for the young. So that’s the Fur Seal. The Sea Lions, they breed around here and path a course right down this coast. I think it’s a consequence of that food abundance and perhaps this relative isolation too. They are up the sandy beaches more, and they are more likely to encounter people around the sandy beaches
CRAWFORD: Yes, I’ve heard a bit about Sea Lion-Human encounters on the beaches.
YOUNG: There may likely be found more on isolated beaches, but they will certainly sleep there happily as a dog, or a horse or a number of people walk by sometimes. They are not afraid like the Seals, they’re a lot more confident. In terms of their sheer size, and in terms of their instincts to ‘rule the roost.’ Yesterday we had a female Sea Lion off Aramoana all day. Unusual. She’s 12 years or so, as I understand. So yeah, good fishing, relative safely. We’re seeing them re-establish this coast as they start to spread further up New Zealand, and there’s good fishing again along the coast.
CRAWFORD: Have you heard, or seen any indirect evidence of what could be shark attacks on Seals or Sea Lions? Scarring, or carcasses with bites out of them, that kind of thing?
YOUNG: We do see, now and then, bites or scars on an animal, and we would say it could be a shark.
CRAWFORD: Seals or Sea Lions?
CRAWFORD: Do you see any floating carcasses of seals?
YOUNG: Yes, sure.
CRAWFORD: Fresh bits and pieces, or just old carcasses rotting apart?
YOUNG: Oh, old and falling apart. We’ll see them through that process. We’ll see them become sick sometimes, and see them in the currents. We’ll see them repeatedly. We might see them every day, and then not see them for a while, and then “Look, there it is.” And then we’ll see the process of others starting to feed on it. And then you might see it in a more dilapidated state. So that’s a process.
CRAWFORD: Do you ever see any Whales in this region?
CRAWFORD: Do you ever see any Whale carcasses in this region?
YOUNG: No, I haven’t. Although I’ve heard they wash up.
CRAWFORD: What about Dolphins?
YOUNG: In the harbour and out.
CRAWFORD: What times of year do you see them?
YOUNG: Right through the year, but particularly the spring is great for the Hector’s Dolphins and the Duskys as well. Right through the summer, and into the autumn. More so in the spring summer autumn, than in the winter.
CRAWFORD: I’ve hear accounts of massive pods moving along this coastline.
YOUNG: Yeah, Duskys. Might be in the 100’s. Not so common, really. But we’ll see these pods a dozen times a year, and smaller pods - family groupings - are here feeding a lot more regularly. We’ve had them all week - feeding just offshore here. Hector’s Dolphins, which live around in this big bay and are ometimes seen in the harbour. Both the Dusky’s and the Hector’s use this as a nursery area for their young. They’ll have the little pod family grouping, with the young dolphin - and they’re very inquisitive to come and see the boat. We’ll turn the motor off, stop the prop, and encourage them to come and look and learn. We encounter them on a daily basis, and when it’s windy there, we might see them five times in a day, and then we might not see them for a day, and then we’ll see them for three days in a row. So it’s very random when we see them. But we’re certainly looking. And when there’s abundance, there they are.
CRAWFORD: Abundance of what?
YOUNG: Schooling fish, and krill. We get big schools of Pilchards and Mullet and Spratt.
CRAWFORD: When do you see those?
YOUNG: Sunday, we saw a balling school of Pilchards by the multiples of thousands, and the Dusky Dolphins picking them off and balling them up. And of course, it’s a free-for-all for the birds above.
CRAWFORD: It sounds like the natural equivalent to dumping cod frames fish guts in the sea. These birds are going to respond every time there’s an aggregation of fish, live or dead?
CRAWFORD: Do you know anything at all about local meat effluents? Are there any sources of organic effluence into the general region of the Otago Peninsula that you are aware of?
YOUNG: Well, yes of course the municipal sewage of Dunedin is discharged off of St. Kilda. I think its one km offshore, with the new part being built. Of course, now it’s a processed secondary approach. Secondary is not screened for size.
CRAWFORD: Do you know of any other types of effluents?
YOUNG: The historical one of the Otakou fish processing plant dropping its offal down through a tube. off the cliffs of the Taiaroa Headland.
CRAWFORD: On the outside?
YOUNG: Yes. Backed the trucks up and, as I understood, put the offal into the shoot - straight to the water.
CRAWFORD: That’s something from the previous generation. Do you know roughly when that stopped?
YOUNG: Don’t know.
CRAWFORD: Do you know of any other stories, historical or contemporary about offal effluent around this region?
YOUNG: No, not off hand.
CRAWFORD: Do you know how offal is dealt with from the fishing fleet over at Carey’s Bay?
YOUNG: Not really. They clean the catch, and of course they dispose of the offal I presume seems like they do that coming in. Again, it comes back to those regulations. Speaking of the offal and the accumulation of the food and the abundance here, we should speak too about the outflow of the harbour here with these tides. It is a big factor, I feel, on the area of feeding for the different species depending on the tide. The plume that comes out from the eddy and the harbour. And, of course, Blueskin Bay, it’s very abundant - this shallow estuary and it’s a lot of organic matter comes out. Not just from the humans, but from the freshwater inflow to the saltwater body. You’ve got run-off from the city and from the university campus for instance. That’s how large the freshwater influence is that runs right past us here. So it comes through the city, and then out into the harbour, and then in conjunction with the natural abundance of the warm plankton-fed highly productive sand flats. You see the fish larvae taking advantage to breed and graze here, and so with the tide coming out, you’ve got this distinct plume.
CRAWFORD: There is this pulse from the human-related productivity, and you believe that that’s another contributing factor to the ecological activity offshore of the Otago Peninsula?
YOUNG: Yeah, I see three things. I see the currents and mixing, I see the upwellings of the deepwater canyons, and I see the outflow from these embayments.
CRAWFORD: Outflow and tidal flush? Combination of the two?
YOUNG: Yeah. The Dolphins, for instance, will be much more likely to be out there with the evening tide.
CRAWFORD: Out there at the mouth of the harbour?
YOUNG: There are two or three mouths that open there, and so we are looking for Dolphins, and we know when we see the tide, perhaps the target. That fish is the feature on our documentation. Every day we come back, and we record what we’ve seen. So, we have a strong record of documentation going back 15 to 20 years. Every day, species sighted. And then these forms, we fill in more detail some of the more dramatic sightings around the marine mammals. We record what were they doing,and what was the tide flow.
CRAWFORD: What do you think was the strongest association between tidal condition and activity?
YOUNG: Ebbing tide. When it’s coming out, that plume of water flowing out helps brings the abundance.
CRAWFORD: One way or another, that triggers the fish, which in turn triggers the Dolphins?
YOUNG: You see the birds just cruising back and forth. They come down here where the eddy and the tide comes out. That plume, they’re just going backwards and forwards over the plume.
CRAWFORD: What do you know about the attacks that took place historically around this region?
YOUNG: Ah, not much really. Just that there was, was it two fatal and one near-fatal at St. Clair/St. Kilda and one out at Aramoana was it?
CRAWFORD: Do you know anything about these attacls, other than that they occurred in these two general locations?
YOUNG: Yeah, the short time. Was it 1960s or something, I don’t think it was much before. And nothing after. So it has occurred to me that it is strange how it was so concentrated in time and severity.
CRAWFORD: That has occurred to other people as well. Do you have any thinking about why they happened like that?
YOUNG: No. Maybe culture developed amongst a family of sharks?
CRAWFORD: Or even in one individual. It could be that just one White Pointer developed that behaviour?
YOUNG: Yeah, right.
CRAWFORD: Is it the type of thing that ever gets discussed among people you know? Shark attacks?
YOUNG: It’s a question from the tourists. They’ll want to know, “Do you have any Sharks on the commentary? Depending on the crew, if there are kids around, you know you might say “Some White Sharks come around here.” They can see the little Seal pups and the moms and the dads. And you can see the pups playing in the rock pools, so part of the commentary, leads to the fact that they go to the big ocean where the predators live, and the top predators that we have here for Fur Seals are Leopard Seals, Sea Lions, the White Pointer Shark and the occasional Orca. You do see them cruising and hunting right by the fur seal colony.
CRAWFORD: You see what?
YOUNG: The Orca and the Sea Lions hunting. And they’re not silly. They’re very good hunters. They’ll hide behind the outcropping of rocks. They’ll wait there. You can sit and observe this. There are times when you see the hunting behaviour. Also interesting for the Orca, you see them showing the calves how to hunt here. This is important for us, because we have to look for them. I can pass on incidents from last summer when we had a pod of Orca here, and the mom was hunting and close by the rocks, there was a dad and a calf here too. And the dad starts swimming out in one direction, a regular pattern of rising and falling - he had drawn the boat away. We followed the dad. And it was like “This is too good to be true.” I didn’t trust him all of a sudden, he’s being too good and too consistent. So, I look back and keep looking at the Seal colony, and there was the mum and pup right next to the seals. So I turned the boat around to show the people where the show was. They are really smart you know! This dad was taking us away. He’s not silly. Another time last summer, a calf came and parked under the boat, with his head and tail visible from either side. He wanted to come and see the people and the boat. The dad came back and pushed the calf away, pushed the calf away! The calf leaves but then comes back again. So the calf comes and does the same thing again. And this time before the dad comes all the way back, the calf peels off and joins them again. It’s these behaviours that we are trying to show the people. The hunting, for instance. When you see a Sea Lion there, and you know where he’s going to go. You have to position yourself to where the best viewing spot will be. You can see the Sea Lion come up for breath. It’s a weird manipulating. We’re trying to engage, but not impact. But we are trying to show people the natural order of things. So we’ll have to be, using our memory and experience to understand where the best chance of success is to show our people the realities in the wild. We try hard not to have influence or impact the wildlife. This is some trouble we go to, to that end. Yesterday we had half a dozen juvenile Albatross doing wing displays on the water. So, we come right up here on the boat. How to approach this congregation to not disrupt. If we come too close, they will be looking at us and we’re looking at them. If we come in from downwind - really slowly, which is really important - we can get closer, and then people can see their natural behaviours. That’s the key. If we can sail away, and the birds are still doing their things then we’re not impacting them. Then it’s a successful contact for us.
CRAWFORD: And as you said before, you do not feed the birds.
YOUNG: We don’t really need to.
Copyright © 2017 Nigel Young and Steve Crawford