Steve Hill

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YOB: 1958
Experience: Recreational Fisherman
Regions: Canterbury, Catlins
Interview Location: Curio Bay, NZ
Interview Date: 11 January 2016
Post Date: 11 November 2017; Copyright © 2017 Steve Hill and Steve Crawford

4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE

CRAWFORD: What about Seals here at Porpoise Bay, did the old-timers say anything about Seals or Sea Lions when you first got here? 

HILL: No, they never really mentioned. 

CRAWFORD: Did you have Seals or Sea Lions up at Banks Peninsula?

HILL: Yes, we did. More so Seals. 

CRAWFORD: Whereabouts were the hotspots for the Seals up north? 

HILL: They were just out at the heads of the bays, basically. They weren’t really in close, never hardly saw any Seals at all on the beach, or Sea Lions. There’s mainly more Seals up that way. 

CRAWFORD: And down here, relatively speaking, more or fewer Seals? 

HILL: There’s still a few Seals around here. But we’ve had a big decline in Sea Lions. They have been down for the last three years. A lot of things have changed out here in the last three to four years. 

CRAWFORD: Do you have ideas about why those changes would be happening? 

HILL: Well, I’ve got my opinions. 

CRAWFORD: Yes, please.

HILL: We’re down here every day of the year. You see what’s happened, like, when we arrived down here, when you look out the shop window on the right, there’s a reef out there. There were eight Seals out there, when we arrived here 10 years ago. I have seen four attacks out there on the Seals ...

CRAWFORD: 'Attacks' meaning what? 

HILL: Sharks. But I don’t know what sort of sharks. We couldn’t really see them properly. 

CRAWFORD: Are these shark attacks for sure? 

HILL: I would have to say yes. 

CRAWFORD: Did you see fins? 

HILL: Well, we saw fins, but we couldn’t really determine what sort of shark they were. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. Very likely a shark, but the type is not necessarily known. And you have seen these attacks, not from a boat, but from the shop on the park beach? 

HILL: Yeah, from the shop. Had binoculars on them.

CRAWFORD: Roughly what distance? Two hundred metres, something like that? 

HILL: Yeah. And the next day we’ve seen parts, big chunks of the Seal, what’s left of it, washed up on the beach. I had notified DOC. They were down, and we just buried them, what was left. 

CRAWFORD: When you came here, had anybody mentioned to you, anything about Seals being attacked by sharks here?

HILL: No, nothing. 

CRAWFORD: When was the first attack that you recall?

HILL: Probably about after two years being here. 

CRAWFORD: So, about eight years ago? 

HILL: Yes, that’s right. 

CRAWFORD: That makes it 2007. You were in your shop, looking out ... What made you think that it was an attack on a Seal in the first place? 

HILL: Well, I saw the water - it was very calm. And I saw this splashing out from the rocks. I thought it was a diver at first, a Pāua diver with his flippers. 

CRAWFORD: Do people dive for Pāua here? 

HILL: Oh, yes. But then I saw this, something in the air, and a fin of a shark, and then later all this blood, blood red in the water. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. So, you didn’t actually see a Seal taken itself. You saw the commotion. You saw the indication of a shark fin for sure, and you saw blood. And then the next day, you saw bits and pieces of a Seal? What kinds of bits and pieces do you remember? 

HILL: There was the tail, at the end. Bottom section of the Seal. And that was all that was washed up that day. At other times, we’ve seen bigger chunks of Seal and that. 

CRAWFORD: Heads, flippers? 

HILL: No, I haven’t come across a head or flippers. I just rang the DOC. Anything like that we report to DOC. 

CRAWFORD: When you ring DOC, who do you call? 

HILL: I just call the office in Invercargill. If we see Yellow-Eyed Penguins on the beach, dead but still in good condition, we freeze them, and DOC takes them away to go to the university. 

CRAWFORD: The very first time when this happened, did you call up DOC when you saw the attack? Or the next day when you saw the remains?

HILL: Oh, the next day when I saw the remains, yes. Told them what happened the day before. 

CRAWFORD: Did DOC send somebody?

HILL: They said "Oh yeah, that."

CRAWFORD: Was there any type of ... did they do any analysis on the teeth marks, or anything like that? 

HILL: No, no. They just said "That’s part of nature." 

CRAWFORD: It is. But it's a very important part of nature. 

CRAWFORD: Did they say anything about it being a shark attack? 

HILL: Yeah. They said, "Oh yes, definitely a shark attack here."

CRAWFORD: "Definitely a shark attack." On a Seal. Within 200 metres of a holiday park beach!

HILL: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: When you moved here ten years ago, you I think you said there were Seals around at that time? 

HILL: Eight Seals, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: There were eight Seals that tended to hang out at the rocky point, just up from this holiday park beach?

HILL: Yes. And then, in two month's time we saw two attacks, and then after that ...

CRAWFORD: Whoah, whoah. The first attack - what time of year was that?

HILL: That was in about October. That’s right. 

CRAWFORD: That means it was spring here, not summer time. What time of day was it, roughly? 

HILL: It was in the morning, at 10 o’clock. Because we were sitting down there, and I was having a cup of tea with somebody. 

CRAWFORD: What else do you remember? You said the water was calm?

HILL: It was calm, it was clear, yes. 

CRAWFORD: What other types of things do you remember from this first attack. Do you recall if there was more than just the one Seal on the reef? What did the other Seals do? 

HILL: I didn’t take any notice. I can’t remember. We were focussed on what was happening, you know?

CRAWFORD: Do you remember any birds being around, circling around? 

HILL: No, no. It was just a bit of a shock, you know. Your mind is focussed on that one point. You don’t sort of think, you know? I can’t say whether there were birds afterwards. I just remember the color of the water, the red. And then we thought "Well gee, it's not a human is it?" You know? 

CRAWFORD: Right! 

HILL: [laughs] You know!? 

CRAWFORD: What did you do to make sure it wasn’t a human? 

HILL: We sort of just watched it. All this thrashing around, and we see the tail of the shark. And then the next day after we saw the Seal remains, we put a sign up advising people not to go down on the beach around the rocks, due to sharks. We done it because it come as a big surprise. 

CRAWFORD: So, somebody from DOC came down and said that’s nature and that’s the way it is, and you buried the Seal parts on the beach or where? 

HILL: Yeah, on the beach. 

CRAWFORD: That was standard policy?

HILL: Yeah, it's like anything. If we see a dead Blue Penguin. like the other day, we just bury them. They are not interested in them. But the Yellow-Eyed Penguins, any Yellow-Eyed we get, they are to be frozen straight away when we get them. DOC comes and pick them up, and takes them away and does an autopsy on them.

CRAWFORD: What’s the focus on Yellow-Eyed Penguins, as opposed to the Blue Penguins? 

HILL: Well, because the population down here is dropping down.

CRAWFORD: Of the Yellow-Eyed, but not the Blue? 

HILL: Yeah. There’s still a lot of wee Blues here. 

CRAWFORD: When you found dead Penguins, have you ever found parts of Penguins? 

HILL: No, never, ever. 

CRAWFORD: They're pretty small anyways. Depending on the size of the shark, they may not be able to get a whole Seal down, and you would expect to get parts of the Seal after an attack. But a Penguin, if they were for whatever reason taking Penguins, the chances of you finding a part of a Penguin would be pretty low. And who would know, could be boat propeller, or something else. 

HILL: No. Never, ever seen any parts of Penguins. Even Seagulls, we bury Seagulls down the beach. Different cause we’re always checking the beach for wildlife. That’s just me - always done it, you know. And never ever seen parts of Seagulls or Penguins. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. Tell me about the second shark attack on a Seal. 

HILL: That happened about eight weeks later. 

CRAWFORD: I think the first attack you said was in October, so this was going to be in or around November? That’s late spring time here?

HILL: Yes. Yeah, that’s right. 

CRAWFORD: Time of day, roughly? 

HILL: Was about 4 o’clock. Between 4 and 5. 

CRAWFORD: Do you remember the conditions? 

HILL: Yeah. Once again, it was calm, reasonably calm. A slight little chop on, but conditions were very good. We had a tour bus group down here at the time. They were here, but not in the water. Dolphins were along from the shop about 300 yards. That’s what they were watching. Once again, roughly in the same place on that point out there. And all this commotion again. And someone said "Oh look, what’s happening out there?" I said, "Oh, it looks like another shark attack." And then they all said "Shark Attack!" And this time we saw the Seal, more so this time.

CRAWFORD: What was the Seal doing? 

HILL: It was just trying to move, it was just like this [flapping], you know? 

CRAWFORD: Was it on the water, right next to the rocks ...

HILL: No, it was about 30 feet out from the rocks. And it was just shaking like this, in the shark's mouth.

CRAWFORD: You saw it in the shark's mouth? 

HILL: Yeah, in the shark's mouth. This one was different. Like it grabbed it in the middle. 

CRAWFORD: This was roughly in the same location. So about 200 metres?

HILL: Yes, yes. Exactly. And we only saw it a couple of times, maybe three times. But the people from the bus couldn’t believe it. Everyone stopped and looked. 

CRAWFORD: Well, you don’t see that every day. 

HILL: No. It's very strange. And then, later on, when we had that shark attack on the surfer. It's something else. 

CRAWFORD: I knew about the attack on the surfer here. But I hadn’t heard anything about these shark attacks on the Seals, prior to the attack on the surfer. You said originally there were about eight Seals here on the point? 

HILL: Yeah, that’s right. 

CRAWFORD: And you got to know these animals over time?

HILL: You do. It's just like every day ...

CRAWFORD: And there might be a couple new ones, or they might bugger off for a bit and then come back for a bit. But when you’re talking about this place, that point in particular, it was typically about eight Seals out there. And within two months, two of them were taken, in October and November of your second year here. Eight years ago, in 2007. 

HILL: That’s right. Yeah, 

CRAWFORD: Do you remember any features about the shark during the second attack?

HILL: We didn’t have binoculars that time. That’s why I said to you, I don’t know for sure it was a shark, you know? You could see the head sort of. Because a Seal is quite long. 

CRAWFORD: Do you remember seeing the nose of the shark, anything like that?

HILL: No, I don’t. No, no. It was towards us, so I can remember seeing the Seal underneath, and he sort of went up and come down, and then up and come down again. And then later on, all the blood again, and everything.

CRAWFORD: Where there have been shark attacks on Seals, but people have not actually seen the shark closely, there are only a limited number of different sharks around here that can and will take a Seal. 

HILL: See, I don’t know what sort of sharks would take a Seal.

CRAWFORD: And it could have been that when the Seals went away, maybe they swam away from here, or it could be that perhaps one or more sharks did get them all - because if you can take one Seal and there’s only eight there, over time ... 

HILL: That’s right. 

CRAWFORD: Did you find any remnants from that second Seal? 

HILL: Yeah. We had one flipper. 

CRAWFORD: Did you phone DOC as soon as it happened? 

HILL: Oh yes, always do. 

CRAWFORD: You phoned DOC at Invercargill. Did they send somebody down? 

HILL: No, I don’t think so. Once again, I said, "Look, there’s been another shark attack." Because we always let them know, because our relationship with DOC is very good. Anything that happens with the wildlife, penguins, we ring them up, 

CRAWFORD: Ok. How many more times did you see shark attacks on Seals? 

HILL: Two. And they were about a year later.

CRAWFORD: So, 2008. What time of year? 

HILL: That was once again October, November. Yeah, because the shop was opened longer hours. We’re only open certain hours in the winter time, basically from 11 to 2 o’clock in the winter time, then we open longer hours in the spring down at the shop. That’s where I saw it, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: So, it must have been mid-day then? Between 11 and 2?

HILL: It would have been after that, sort of in the afternoon. Because we open up longer from October, that’s how I know roughly.

CRAWFORD: Ok, I get it. But the same place, same point?

HILL: Yeah. Same point, but probably a little bit further out this time.

CRAWFORD: If there were originally eight Seals, two of which were taken the year before ... Do the seals that were there, do they bugger off for a while after an attack?

HILL: Oh yes, yes, yes, yes. 

CRAWFORD: So, the day after the first attack, the Seals were gone? 

HILL: Yeah. Because I remember somebody saying jokingly "Ah, he probably got them all!"

CRAWFORD: And you wondered if maybe that actually happened? 

HILL: I said "Oh. Well, that’s possible." And they come back there the next day again. 

CRAWFORD: They came back the next day, the six or seven of them? 

HILL: Yeah, it seemed so. DOC has been here, asked us to keep note how many Seals we see and Sea Lions. They were getting a lot of Sea Lions down here, and over the years they’ve tagged them and they’ve tracked them to get an idea of where they’re going.

CRAWFORD: So, DOC asks you to keep eyes open, for the Sea Lions. 

HILL: For what I see, yeah. Tags and that. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. That was the first year, there were eight Seals. Then two were taken, so there were six. Then the next year, do you figure there were still six Seals? 

HILL: Yeah. There were still six out. I remember, because we always keep track. 

CRAWFORD: Are these Seals resident year-round?

HILL: No. They go away, and they do come back again. 

CRAWFORD: When do they leave roughly? 

HILL: Look, I’d be guessing. 

CRAWFORD: Roughly. I want you to guess for me.  

HILL: In the winter time, they’re not quite there so much, because there’s no food around, you see?

CRAWFORD: Ok. And then maybe come back in around September or October? 

HILL: Yeah, yeah that’s right.

CRAWFORD: Then in the second year, you were about to tell me, was it the same time of year? 

HILL: Yeah, because our shop hours were open later. That’s how I know. 

CRAWFORD: And the third attack was a little bit further out you said. So maybe 300 metres away from the shop? 

HILL: Yes, yes, that’s right. And once again, I saw the water being stirred up and that. Didn’t see anything. And then red! Blood! But we didn’t see anything wash up. No, nor on the fourth time.

CRAWFORD: The fourth attack, that was that further out as well, or a little bit closer?

HILL: Oh, about the same as where the first lot were. 

CRAWFORD: So, about 200 metres? 

HILL: Yeah, but we didn’t see anything washed up. No, didn’t see nothing. 

CRAWFORD: What happened over the remaining six years to the present - with regards to Seals on this rocky point? 

HILL: After that, there was just a couple, but they just vanished, you know?

CRAWFORD: When did they vanish? 

HILL: Probably about another year after that. 

CRAWFORD: You’re in a prime location here at your shop. You can just look out the window and see the Seals?

HILL: That’s our natural instinct to look out there all the time. 

CRAWFORD: Has anybody else that you’re aware of, around this region, ever seen a shark attack a Seal? 

HILL: No. Our situation is as I say, we’re going every day of the year, and we spend a lot of time down here when it’s busy. And you understand a lot what’s going on, how things have changed over the years down here. 

CRAWFORD:  And, there’s been no Seals out there at all ever since?

HILL: No. But after that, then the Sea Lions started to come around. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. Tell me about your recollection of what happened to the surf boarder who was bitten by the shark here a while ago. First of all, when was it?

HILL: That was in February, two years ago. It was 20 past 8 at night in February, and it was a calm, still night. No wind, we had all the Dolphins here.

CRAWFORD: Where were you? 

HILL: I was in the shop, serving. We had people, lovely night out here, all the Dolphins were out here in front of the shop, about 20 to 30 of them. People watching, had been swimming with them. And all of a sudden, a car comes racing down the beach, another car comes racing in front of the shop "Oh, someone’s been taken by a shark!" At first, sort of hard to believe, so I said to Val "Alright, I’ll go down and have a look and see what’s going on." At the time, we had two DOC radios. I talk to DOC, I've got this radio in my shop now. I can talk to them in case they get in trouble and want a hand. We had two radios there, so I grabbed one of them, and I said to Val "I’ll keep you updated what’s happened." So, I went down there, and they probably just come out of the water, pulled him out, and here’s this big hole in his wetsuit. And we see what we can do, we partly cut some of the wet suit open, but you couldn’t, so just keep on the pressure point. Then a junior doctor come along, she couldn’t do much, just sort of bound it up and that. There was an A&E doctor there in the background, he just kept an eye on us. He felt, there’s nothing else we could do. We just talked to the patient, let him know a helicopter was coming, organized that, all the medical care. But the fella that seen the attack, the fella that Val and I noticed, he seemed in shock. From what I could gather, there was a surfer there, and a surfer here. There were two sharks working together, went underneath his board ...

CRAWFORD: Two sharks? Where did the second shark come from? This is the first I’ve heard of two sharks. Who saw that there were two sharks? 

HILL: The Argentina fellow on the board. He said the victim was here on the board, two of the sharks were underneath the board, one veered to the right, and the other one just kept on going like that. 

CRAWFORD: This is the first I’ve heard of two sharks in this encounter. 

HILL: Yeah. That fella from Argentina. Has never been in the water since. 

CRAWFORD: He said both sharks were directly under his board?

HILL: Yes, yeah. And he was the one that’s freaked out. 

CRAWFORD: And you heard it from him that there were two sharks? 

HILL: Yes, yes.

CRAWFORD: Were they going quickly? 

HILL: I don’t know. 

CRAWFORD: Do you remember any other details? 

HILL: No. All I remember is the fella that had been attacked, you know, he was going through different stages of shock, understandable and that. And we were just talking to him to make sure of what was going on, But the other fella, the Argentina fella, he was just freaked out. He just couldn’t believe it. 

CRAWFORD: We have to be careful, because if somebody is in shock and he’s freaked out, we don’t really know what to make of what he’s telling you either. 

HILL: No. But that’s what he said to me, and the day after that as well. Because the police interviewed him as well, they come down. We closed the whole beach down, put signs up so no one could get in the water. And yet we had all the Dolphins out here at the time of the attack. People were swimming with them, you know?

CRAWFORD: Do you remember any reaction by the Dolphins? You said they were there when it happened. Approximately how far away from the attack were the Dolphins? 

HILL: Well, they were a fair way. When you look from the shop, you know, there’s rocks there. And in front of the shop you've got the rocks, and then you've got that little bay, and there’s that little point that goes out. They were just in there, in that little shore. It happened about roughly the third house from the very far end, way over here. So, it’s a wee distance. 

CRAWFORD: Maybe a kilometre?

HILL: Yeah, yeah. It's deceiving. But that day, they had been a bit of bait fish around as well. 

CRAWFORD: In Porpoise Bay? 

HILL: Yes. Because once again we see birds, and that’s a sign there’s fish around, and there’s bait fish around, and there had been a bit of activity that day. 

CRAWFORD: Was there anything you heard from other people, with regards to the nature of the attack itself - about what happened? 

HILL: No, that was basically it.

CRAWFORD: And that the shark chomped down. 

HILL: Yeah, yeah. I think Nick’s [Smart] still got the board, I might be wrong. From what I can gather, what saved him, is it come in and when the shark clamped down, his whole leg was in his mouth - but it’s the board that saved him from biting through. 

CRAWFORD: This attack had a huge effect on everything. You can’t have something like that - especially in a small community, without major effects. You said that the beach was shut down? 

HILL: Yeah, it had to be shut down for 24 hours. 

CRAWFORD: And you said the police did an investigation? 

HILL: Yeah, they did. They were out, straight away. 

CRAWFORD: And DOC too? Does DOC go out with the police in an investigation like that? 

HILL: I don’t know what they’ve done. They were notified straight away.

CRAWFORD: Since that time, have you heard about, or have you seen, any sharks or shark attacks on seals, or anything since then? 

HILL: No, nothing. 

Copyright © 2017 Steve Hill and Steve Crawford