Peter Gibbons

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YOB: 1953
Experience: Surf Life Saver
Regions: Otago
Interview Location: Dunedin, NZ
Interview Date: 02 December 2015
Post Date: 08 July 2017; Copyright © 2017 Peter Gibbons and Steve Crawford

3. WHITE POINTER DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE

CRAWFORD: I have a question for you in regard to distribution of the animals - but on a very small scale. I mean, surf life savers are looking from their vantage point - the flags are there for a reason, that’s where they’re focusing their attention. For the number of times that you’ve seen sharks, or people have told you that sharks were seen, was there any kind of indication about the animals not coming in close to shore or a certain distance? That they typically were not coming in close to shore? That you had to be more kind of further offshore - that kind of thing?

GIBBONS: No there’s nothing around my personal involvement around our area that suggests that. I mean it’s not even regular, we can go through a whole season with nothing. I don’t think we’ve cleared the water for a shark for at least five years. But whether that’s because our focus is on the Sea Lions - and they’re right here, right at the water's edge? But the sharks are just not a problem for us where we are. Or at least they’re not perceived by us to be. We know that they’re there. I know from work I’ve done that the fishing club - they catch world record sharks out in the bay.

CRAWFORD: Which bay?

GIBBONS: Out here off Warrington and that. They chuck a bucket of berley over and the next thing, there’s ten big sharks around.

CRAWFORD: That’s an important observation. When did you first get exposed to the fishing club? 

GIBBONS: I’ve never been fishing with them, but through things that I’ve done at work, I know that people in that fishing club have caught a 300 kg shark on a 15 kg breaking line as a world record. I mean those guys in that Tautuku Fishing Club are all about the big fish out here and they catch them. So we know that there are big sharks out in our area. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. That’s an important thing. Who are the key contacts at the fishing club that I should be inquiring with on that? 

GIBBONS: I wouldn’t know who their office holders are, but probably Warren Lewis. We could probably track Warren Lewis down. He’s a recreational fisherman who would then be able to put us on to it. 

CRAWFORD: But the idea is that through your peers, you know that their recreational fishery has engaged with a relatively high abundance of large sharks around Warrington Bay?

GIBBONS: Yeah, round this bay. Once when I went on a recreational trip on a big boat and they were fishing Blue Sharks. And it was like fishing for Goldfish. It’s like when you chuck the berley over and the guy said "They’re all just Blues, what do you want to catch? Throw this line over there." Just sport. Reel them in and let them go again. So I know that there are at least hundreds of Blue Sharks here, from personal experience. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever spend any time, or know people that have spent time, in Otago Harbour

GIBBONS: No. I mean we do a little bit of training in the harbour, we’ve seen Seals and Dolphins, but personally I’ve never seen a shark in the harbour.

CRAWFORD: Do you ever remember hearing from other people about sharks in the harbour?

GIBBONS: No, you would probably need to talk to the fisherman at Carey’s Bay, much further down the harbour.

CRAWFORD: I have spoken to some of them.

GIBBONS: And they would be able to tell you. Right up the top, even up as far as here, we’ve seen Dolphins, obviously when the mum’s calf is looking for warm water and stuff like that. 

CRAWFORD: Right up into the inner harbour?

GIBBONS: Right in. 

CRAWFORD: You’ve seen Dolphins there?

GIBBONS: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: Well, that actually brings up an interesting thing that somebody brought up yesterday. And that was the perception - and they didn’t know if it was real or not - but common knowledge that wherever Dolphins are, sharks are not. Because the Dolphins will actively interfere with the sharks. Is that kind of thing common knowledge, in your experience?

GIBBONS: Well that’s a common New Zealand thing. I don’t know if it’s a myth or not, but it’s absolutely common. Every New Zealander would probably tell you that. 

CRAWFORD: I’m thinking now in terms of St. Clair and St. Kilda. How frequently do you see Dolphins over there?

GIBBONS: We really only tend to see them when they’re migrating past. We don’t have them frolicking round, whereas you can go to Warrington and so on and play with them for the day. 

CRAWFORD: By migrating past, is there a particular time of year that they migrate past?

GIBBONS: Yeah, it seems to be late summer. Huge schools, massive schools.

CRAWFORD: Hundreds?

GIBBONS: Oh yeah, hundreds easy. There’s another beach down here called Long Beach, that we go and train at often because of the conditions. We use it because it’s better conditions to train at, with the kids and that. We’ve often seen huge schools of Dolphins up there. It’s quite remote from St. Clair and St. Kilda. They’ve got the GoPros these days - the kids go out, they film them and play with them and hold them - and then we go back and put it on the TV at the club. They think it’s magic. But that never happens at St. Clair and St. Kilda. We only see them going past, as I’ve said. Sometimes we’ve seen Orcas going past. But not hang around.

CRAWFORD: Some people have raised a concern that there have historically been places where humans are discharging sewage or some organic offal into the coastal waters. From the time that you have spent in this region, do you know of any of these kinds of rendering plants or freezer works or whatever in this region?

GIBBONS: Well they’ve tidied it all up. We didn’t get involved in it. There used to be what they called the 'Green Island Outfall.' I think that was what you’re talking about, the freezing works, that sort of stuff. And yeah, they tidied all that up.

CRAWFORD: When was this roughly? 

GIBBONS: Probably 10 years or so ago. 

CRAWFORD: Why did they tidy it up?

GIBBONS: Oh well, just because as the world has gone on, the City Council has become more responsive you know. You just can’t dump untreated stuff into the sea. 

CRAWFORD: And this would have been a freezer works, like say for lamb?

GIBBONS: Yeah, all your New Zealand meat.

CRAWFORD: But terrestrial stock rather than fish processing?

GIBBONS: Oh yeah. Beef, cattle, lamb you know? And that’s been tidied up. Just off our beach, it’s marked on your map there, the end of our beach is called Lawyer's Head. The Dunedin City Council sewage used to be pumped out 50 m. The whole Dunedin City sewage came out there 50 yards, and that’s all it was. We’re about one and a half km down from there.

CRAWFORD: And the prevailing current is northward along here? Does that current ever reverse?

GIBBONS: Oh, yes. During the winter, we get a lot coming this way. But what they’ve done is put the treatment plant, we submitted and were witnesses at the hearing, that now goes 1.1 kilometres offshore. So now it is A, treated and B, goes out 1.1 kilometres. It’s made no difference to the shark sightings or anything, because we traditionally haven’t had big sightings. But because of the modern public response, City Council has had to clean those issues up. Both ends of our beaches have been tidied up, probably in the last decade or so. 

CRAWFORD: Back in the day, was there ever any discussion or did people ever raise the concern that shark-human interactions might have been associated in any way with the organic effluent?

GIBBONS: It’s not something that I’ve got personal knowledge of. I know they did a lot of work on it, because we supplied boats. When the divers were down, we used to sit on top as safety boats because we were contracted to do a lot of that stuff. They certainly did a lot of work. Exactly what they did, I don’t know. 

Copyright © 2017 Peter Gibbons and Steve Crawford