Warrick Mitchell

Mitchell_Warrick_small.png

YOB: 1978
Experience: Surf Boarder, Scuba Diver, Boater, Commercial Fisherman
Regions: Fiordland, Stewart Island, North Island
Interview Location: Awarua/Big Bay, NZ
Interview Date: 31 October 2015
Post Date: 01 December 2017; Copyright © 2017 Warrick Mitchell and Steve Crawford

3. WHITE POINTER DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE

CRAWFORD: Getting back to your experience along Fiordland, northern Fiordland especially ... you have spent many hundreds of hours on the water along this coastline? 

MITCHELL: Yes.

CRAWFORD: Have you ever seen any White Pointers here?

MITCHELL: No, I haven’t.

CRAWFORD: To your knowledge, has anybody else in the local region, seen or had interactions with White Pointers in northern Fiordland?

MITCHELL: I only know of two experiences or interactions with White Pointers in this region. And those two experiences that I know of, both involved individual sharks being caught in individual nets. 

CRAWFORD: Setnets?

MITCHELL: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: OK. When and where was the first instance?

MITCHELL: I believe that one was in Anita Bay, at the entrance to Milford Sound. And the other one was in Jacksons Bay, north of here.

CRAWFORD: When was the Anita Bay shark incident? 

MITCHELL: The Anita Bay one, I’m going to have a stab that it was the mid-1980’s.

CRAWFORD: Do you remember who was involved? 

MITCHELL: Not accurately, no. It could have been a West Coast fishing boat. But maybe Jacksons Bay, maybe Hokitika, Greymouth. I believe it was Greymouth. 

CRAWFORD: So, there were setnetters that would go from there down to Milford Sound?

MITCHELL: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: What were they set-netting for, typically?

MITCHELL: To be honest, that’s a good question. But they’re not setnetting commercially - that I understand. They may have been setnetting at the time, if they were Lobster fishing.

CRAWFORD: The second instance that you have heard of was also a setnetter? Around Jackson Bay?

MITCHELL: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Roughly the same time, the late 80’s?

MITCHELL: Early 90’s. Yeah, I think it was a set-net. But I’m not 100 percent sure. It could have been a mooring line that the shark got tangled up in, or some such thing like that. I’ve seen the photo of the shark pulled up alongside the boat.

CRAWFORD: Where did you see that photo? Do you remember?

MITCHELL: Yeah. In Jacksons Bay.

CRAWFORD: On the wall in a pub? Something like that?

MITCHELL: Yeah, something like that. And there was a chap called ... geez and I know this guy too. He owns a boating company in Dunedin, South Dunedin. He builds boats, aluminum boats. And he’s a diver, and he goes into Fiordland, and I can’t remember what the brand of his boat is. But he told me that he saw one in Doubtful Sound while diving. 

CRAWFORD: Ok, good. That’s what you've heard from Fiordland. But you've sailed New Zealand coastal waters elsewhere. Any accounts that you've heard about White Pointers from elsewhere?

MITCHELL: Yeah, when you speak to the surfing community, Allans Beach [Otago Peninsula] supposedly used to have a resident White Pointer called KZ-7. 

CRAWFORD: Yes, I've heard about that. Any other patterns or places where White Pointers tend to be. 

MITCHELL: The other Great White that I’ve heard about was spotted at Cooks Beach by Cathedral Cove kayaking guides. 

CRAWFORD: Kayaking guides?

MITCHELL: Yeah. It made the news. Cooks Beach, Cathedral Cove. It’s Coromandel [Peninsula]. 

CRAWFORD: When was this?

MITCHELL: Probably four or five years ago now. It’s a sea kayaking company. It would be fairly easy to track down. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. The guides made an observation, or there was an interaction?

MITCHELL: There wasn’t an interaction, I think it swum past the kayak.

CRAWFORD: Ok. Now I’d like to ask - it you were thinking of ‘hot-spots’ where White Pointers have been reported in high numbers around North and South Island, what would the top three places be? Based on what you’ve heard?

MITCHELL: Stewart Island, hands down. I don’t know much about White Pointers on this coastline here [Fiordland], sightings of them. But I understand that they go from Stewart Island ... well most of the Stewart Island ones head back to the West, apparently. 

CRAWFORD: Past your region, here?

MITCHELL: South of Fiordland.  Yeah very much so. I believe that they go to Open Bay Islands

CRAWFORD: Where? 

MITCHELL: That’s a group of Islands just of the coast of Jacksons Bay. The reason why I think they go there is because I’ve seen a documentary about White Pointers there eating baby Seals.

CRAWFORD: Roughly, how long ago did you see that documentary?

MITCHELL: I think I watched it flying on a plane to Fiji last year. The show is called ‘Our Big Blue Backyard.’ It might be made by National Geographic, but I don’t know if it is. I think it’s more likely made by New Zealand TV.

CRAWFORD: And the focus of that episode was on the island or the sharks?

MITCHELL: I believe that the focus might have been on the Seals that live on the island. How they can dive to 200 metres deep when they go fishing. And how the White Pointers will come in and get their young. 

CRAWFORD: Alright. Other than Stewart Island as a ‘hot-spot,’ is there anyplace else in New Zealand coastal waters ...

MITCHELL: Chatham Islands. I’ve never been there, but I know that there are White Pointers there. I’ve heard that they are bountiful, but maybe not as many as Stewart Island. And that perhaps the Stewart Island ones and the Chatham Islands ones don’t interact.

CRAWFORD: In terms of males or females, or places where these animals reproduce, have you heard anything about that? Any mating grounds or pupping grounds for White Pointers, that you’ve heard of?

MITCHELL: I don’t know where they breed, no. I don’t know if anybody knows where they breed.

CRAWFORD: Let’s talk about shark-human interactions. Are you aware of any human-shark interactions in New Zealand coastal waters, specifically with White Pointers?

MITCHELL: If there’s one that stands out to me, it’s Campbell Island - where a lady swam out and did a rescue.

CRAWFORD: When did this happen? 

MITCHELL: Yeah, it happened a long time ago. It took about 15 or 20 years until they gave her recognition and gave her some sort of honour and award for her bravery to swim out and save the person. 

CRAWFORD: Do you have any names? 

MITCHELL: I don’t know. She walked through here ...

CRAWFORD: She walked through Big Bay?

MITCHELL: No. Gorge River

CRAWFORD: Roughly when? How old were you?

MITCHELL: Mid 90’s, I reckon. 

CRAWFORD: And she’s a kiwi?

MITCHELL: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: OK. I will track that down, thank you. [In 1999, Jacinda Amey received the New Zealand Cross for saving Mike Fraser after a White Pointer attack at Campbell Island in 1992]

MITCHELL: Ok.

CRAWFORD: You said there were a couple other shark-human incidences you were aware of? 

MITCHELL: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: Where were the others?

MITCHELL: A Surf Life Saver getting taken while doing a training program at St. Clair beach in Dunedin. And the other one was a man training by swimming at Muriwai Beach off the headlands. He swam through a bait ball of fish and seagulls, and got taken. What I’ve been told is that there was a work-up of fish, and he was swimming very close to it. I know that the life guards - one of my friends was one of the life guards, Pakky - that they took the police out and they shot at the shark. You want to talk to those boys for sure. They’ve got a totally different story to what the media portrayed, as well. 

Copyright © 2017 Warrick Mitchell and Steve Crawford