Experience: Commercial Fisherman, Spearfisherman, Scuba Diver
Regions: Otago, Fiordland, Foveaux Strait, Rakiura
Interview Location: Dunedin, NZ
Interview Date: 25 January 2016
Post Date: 08 July 2017; Copyright © 2017 Ross Newton and Steve Crawford
4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE
CRAWFORD: Have you yourself seen White Pointers in the wild?
NEWTON: I had one come and see me, out at Shag Point.
CRAWFORD: Roughly when was this?
NEWTON: Well my oldest son, he’s now 47, and I think he was 12 when he was in the water ...
CRAWFORD: So about 35 years ago? About 1980?
NEWTON: Probably about then, yeah.
CRAWFORD: You remember the time of year?
NEWTON: It was a long weekend. It would have probably been summer, because we were staying up at Camp Bull Ground up there.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Was this a shore dive?
CRAWFORD: And were you free diving or scuba diving?
NEWTON: Free diving.
CRAWFORD: Were you harvesting Pāua? or spearfishing?
NEWTON: Well I’d swum out on this weed edge - I don’t know if you’ve been to Shag Point. Well there’s a whole lot of holiday places along the shoreline, and it drops down and there’s a big flat ledge, and you jump in and there’s gutters and stuff. If you go out a bit further, in those days, I haven’t been out in recent times - there’s a weed edge. There was a weed edge, and it went down to the edge of the rocks, and then the sand was out from it.
CRAWFORD: Are you talking about 100 meters offshore now?
NEWTON: Yeah, at least. And there was no fish around, and I thought "Oh that’s strange, you can usually pull a Blue Cod or something outta here" you know? I was on the surface, and there was a boat just a little way from me upriver, and I look over at this boat and I look back in the water and there's this White Pointer swimming away from me. He’d already been ...
CRAWFORD: Underneath you?!
NEWTON: Yeah. He was about ... his tail was from about here to the wall away. So, he’d already been and had a look at me, and he was swimming away.
CRAWFORD: You didn’t see the animal coming?
CRAWFORD: You didn’t see the animal there?
NEWTON: No. If I’d looked a few seconds later, I wouldn’t have even known he’d been there.
CRAWFORD: You didn’t feel it?
CRAWFORD: And I know it’s very, very difficult to size things up when you’re in the water ...
NEWTON: He was big.
CRAWFORD: It’s very difficult size things up ...
NEWTON: He was very wide.
CRAWFORD: You saw the tail going away. I mean that’s all you saw was the departure?
NEWTON: Yeah. Though I saw from the fin, the dorsal fin, back ... I didn’t actually see the head.
CRAWFORD: The visibility was low?
NEWTON: Yeah. It wasn’t filthy dirty. But you know, low visibility.
CRAWFORD: But he was leaving your location.
NEWTON: [laughs] And I was leaving his location, pretty much straight away.
CRAWFORD: I’m sure that you were. Do you remember the animal's stroke? Was it a casual tail stroke, or was it a tail flick?
NEWTON: Well, I’ve seen two White Pointers ...
CRAWFORD: Hang on, we’re just dealing with this one ...
NEWTON: And both of them haven’t looked like they were even swimming.
CRAWFORD: It was more gliding?
CRAWFORD: You didn't even see the tail really moving at all?
NEWTON: Not that I remember.
CRAWFORD: Wow. ok. Roughly what was the time of day?
NEWTON: I think it was in the morning. Probably 10-ish or something.
CRAWFORD: And were you out by yourself?
NEWTON: Yeah, but the kids and them were right there. I got my son diving then, and he was right on the shore.
CRAWFORD: So, you were spearfishing by yourself. Did you have any fish at the time?
NEWTON: No, because there were no fish around.
CRAWFORD: That’s right. When you said, you thought it was odd there was no fish - roughly what was the amount of time between when you made that observation, and when you saw the shark leaving you.
NEWTON: I’d probably been in the water 20 minutes or so. This other boat, they had scuba divers and they were actually under the water, and I called out to this boat, and they came over, and I barreled straight onto their boat. Then they dashed on their boat, these guys came up and when they came up, they hadn’t seen anything.
CRAWFORD: And then everybody just went into shore, and called it a day?
NEWTON: Yeah. My son always gave me a hard time, because I told him to get out of the water quick, but we didn’t pick him up. [laughs]
CRAWFORD: Ok. That was the first White Pointer you had ever seen?
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]. With regard to this encounter, what Level would you put it at?
NEWTON: Probably the Swim-By thing. It probably came up for a look, and then moved on.
CRAWFORD: A Level 2?
CRAWFORD: Ok. Tell me where your second incident occurred.
NEWTON: It occurred over Seal Rocks over by Ruapuke, here.
CRAWFORD: On the east side of Ruapuke, ok. Roughly when?
NEWTON: Trying to think if I had the Predator then. But I was Pāua diving. Probably the early '90s, I’m thinking.
CRAWFORD: You were in the water, working?
CRAWFORD: Any idea roughly what time of year it would have been?
NEWTON: Actually, it would have probably been in October or November. And why I say that, a friend of mine, Pete Herbert who lives in Fedinga out in North Island, he came down. He always used to come down in October. I know he was there, because he wanted to get back in the water to see if he could see it.
CRAWFORD: Any idea about time of day?
NEWTON: We hadn’t finished the day’s diving so I’m assuming midday maybe?
CRAWFORD: How many people were in the water?
NEWTON: I’m not sure, but probably at least six of us. But we wouldn’t have all been diving together.
CRAWFORD: Did you have dinghy boy?
NEWTON: Yeah. There were two of us. The other guy was probably, I don’t know, 20-40 meters away, I suppose. We were probably a quarter mile offshore [Seal Rocks]. Was just a shingly bottom.
CRAWFORD: So, you’re out there, exposed?
NEWTON: Yeah, we’re exposed. Nothing to climb up on. So this thing came past me on my left hand side. I was just about to dive, I was almost ...
CRAWFORD: You’re at the surface?
NEWTON: I’m sitting there, waiting. Just getting my breath back, ready to go down for my next dive. And I was just about to go, and he came past, and I thought it was a big Dolphin for a second. Just for a split second, and then I realized what it was. And it just glided past me. It looking like he wasn’t swimming or anything. I called out to the decky, and it went straight back down again, and it went out quite a long way, and then it turned and it was coming round. And then the decky arrived, and he said "That shark’s stuck in the water?" It had stopped in the water. And it stopped about here to the couch away.
CRAWFORD: You were at the surface, you called for the dinghy, and you reckon the animal turned?
NEWTON: And again, he didn’t look like he moved his tail or anything.
CRAWFORD: So cruising, gliding, but now it comes back? or is pointed towards you?
NEWTON: No. He came up, and he stopped out to the side about there, sort of.
CRAWFORD: But oriented away from you? Not turned towards you?
NEWTON: Well he was sort of like this [sideways], I suppose. No, he’s not facing onto me. But I’m thinking, will I swim at this thing, or what do I do? I had plenty of time to think about it. And then the dinghy arrived, and he stopped about the same distance as the shark, and I just swam to the dinghy without looking at the shark really, and went straight over to the front of the dingy. I couldn’t climb over the dingy otherwise, but I go over the front and the decky says - he was just going "Shit!" And he said when I came over the front, the shark went under. I don't know, but I reckoned it was sort of starting to get that maybe aggressive look. So, I think I was relatively lucky.
CRAWFORD: What’s an aggressive look?
NEWTON: Sort of, fins up. Like I’ve seen other sharks, and when they get aggressive they get a bit humped up, you know?
CRAWFORD: Ok. But you said that the animal stopped?
NEWTON: Yeah. Stopped.
CRAWFORD: As it turned, and then it just ...
NEWTON: You said about the eye ... I never once thought of that. People have said about the eye, but I never ever thought, never noticed the eye at all. The thing I noticed was the pure whiteness of the underbelly. That’s what I noticed. And we reckoned it was about a 12-footer. That was our guess, you know?
CRAWFORD: Do you have any guess, since you saw the white underside of it, whether it was a male or female?
NEWTON: No. I wouldn’t know the difference, anyway.
NEWTON: And it was probably that wide, I reckon.
CRAWFORD: We’re talking about a meter?
NEWTON: Yeah, about a meter. This was years ago, now. Although I had nightmares about it for a long time, as you can probably imagine.
NEWTON: I thought I was going to have to give up diving. But I went diving in the tropics, and you see sharks all the time there, and I came back where it’s cold. It was the colour of a Yamaha Outboard on the top - that’s what I can recall. When It went past, wasn't till it came back up, that I saw the white underneath, and that’s the thing that always stuck in my mind, was the whiteness of it. So we didn’t go back there for a while, but it was a good place to go Pāua diving. We started going back there, and the deckys would say we’d swim along side-by-side, and then we’d go like that [separate], and someone’d look up and you be back together again. We went there about three or four times, and then another guy that worked for me, Shane Fitzmorris, he had just got a new handnet off the dinghy, and the dinghy boy was driving away, and he saw the shark come right up, and he spun the dinghy round, and by the time he got round it was beside Shane, and Shane saw it and the dinghy boy reckoned Shane moved a meter sideways. He was swimming forward, but he moved sideways, and Shane said the shark charged him. Must have given it a fright. And then it was gone.
CRAWFORD: Would that have been a Level 2? A swim-by?
CRAWFORD: Had the animal come up behind Shane?
CRAWFORD: And then Shane reacted and the animal took off?
NEWTON: And we’ve never been back there.
CRAWFORD: Was that at roughly the same location? The shoal off Seal Rock?
NEWTON: Same place - almost identical.
NEWTON: The one I last saw there, we had this other guy Steve Whitetree that used to work with us. He was a little bit across from us, he dived when we were headed back towards him, and of course he didn’t know. And as soon as we got there, I got the bailer, and I was bashing the hell out of the bottom of the boat, and he just came straight up and over the boat. He hadn’t seen the shark yet, but he knew what I meant.
CRAWFORD: I bet he did.
Copyright © 2017 Ross Newton and Steve Crawford