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
4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE
CRAWFORD: What was the first time you ever remember hearing about or seeing White Pointers?
MITCHELL: I don’t. It was from a very young age I knew about them.
CRAWFORD: Because they were always part of the ecology of this region? In the same way that something like Kakas ... I mean they’ve just always been there?
MITCHELL: No, not so much. I mean, I don’t remember when we ever spoke of White Pointers first. But from a young age I can remember sharks, and of the shark family, the Great White. Big GW.
CRAWFORD: Alright. Have you ever seen a White Pointer? Directly.
CRAWFORD: How many times have you seen a White Pointer?
MITCHELL: Twice. On two separate occasions.
CRAWFORD: And, how old are you now?
MITCHELL: 37 years of age young.
CRAWFORD: When and where was the first incident?
MICTHELL: The first one and the second one, they were both down on Stewart Island. The first one, we sailed across from Bluff in a stormy afternoon.
CRAWFORD: Roughly when?
MITCHELL: Two years ago.
CRAWFORD: OK. Sailed to Stewart Island from Bluff. You were on your personal boat?
MITCHELL: Yeah, personal boat. A 6-metre aluminum craft. Shot across to Motunui - Edwards Island. At which point we anchored off the north-western tip. Fishing. And before long a White Pointer ...
CRAWFORD: How were you fishing?
MITCHELL: We were bottom fishing with fishing rods. Three on board fishing with lighter rigs for Blue Cod. We filleted Blue Cod, put them back in the water, the filleted frames. And shortly after, a Great White was swimming around the boat numerous times.
CRAWFORD: How many frames did you put in the water?
MITCHELL: Three, from memory.
CRAWFORD: And roughly how long between when the first frame went in the water, and the White Pointer showed up?
MITCHELL: 30, 40 minutes. Wasn’t a significantly long time.
CRAWFORD: But it wasn’t immediate either.
MITCHELL: No, definitely was not immediate.
CRAWFORD: Alright. What was the first thing that you remember? Did you see a fin, or did you see an animal swimming under the surface, or what?
MITCHELL: "Holy shit, there’s a shark!" is what my friend said. Something similar to that.
CRAWFORD: But what was the first thing that you and your mates actually saw?
MITCHELL: A great, big, grey shape, missiling through the water.
CRAWFORD: Under the surface?
MITCHELL: Under the surface, yeah.
CRAWFORD: No fin breaking the surface?
MITCHELL: Well, it wasn’t the fin that stood out to me.
CRAWFORD: No, what I’m asking is was it at the surface, breaking water - or was it coming up from the bottom?
MITCHELL: The shark was at the surface, coming towards the back of our boat, and passed our boat in close proximity. The fin was definitely breaking the surface on some occasions, but I cannot say whether on the first occasion if it was out of the water or not.
CRAWFORD: But it came to the boat, up close?
MITCHELL: Yeah, it came past pretty close. I would say on the first glide-by, it probably came past at three metres from the boat.
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]. For your experience with the White Pointer off the Titi Islands north of Stewart Island, would you put that into the Level 2 or Level 3 category?
MITCHELL: Multiple drive-by’s.
CRAWFORD: So that’s an Interest engagement as opposed to a single encounter drive-by?
MITCHELL: It came in quickly, and it came round numerous times.
CRAWFORD: Any kind of behaviour, when it came around? Did it roll? Did the head come up? Anything like that?
MITCHELL: Not that I remember.
CRAWFORD: I think you said your boat was six metres long. I know it's very difficult to gauge the size of things in the water, but with this fish ...
MITCHELL: Four metres long. Four and a bit metres.
CRAWFORD: About two thirds the length of your boat?
CRAWFORD: Anything that you remember about it? How many times did it come back?
MITCHELL: Maybe six times. It swam around the boat numerous times. It swam away, you wouldn’t see it, then it would swim back by. Or maybe glide-by would be a better description of how it moved.
CRAWFORD: You kept an eye out for it, and you didn’t see it again?
MITCHELL: Then there was a break for about 20 or 30 minutes, or some such. And then it came round again, and we all noticed that the second time it came round, it came by with much more ... direction. I want to avoid using the word ‘aggression.’ But with much more purpose, is probably the word. The second time it came by, it had a lot more purpose. It was travelling faster, it didn’t seem to be so inclined to stick around. It checked us out quickly, and then shot away again.
CRAWFORD: How do you know it was the same animal?
MITCHELL: Well, we have no idea. It was a shark.
CRAWFORD: Well, these are big fish, and in some cases, they have uniquely recognizable scars or colour patterns.
MITCHELL: Yeah. The first one had a big cut down its lower dorsal fin. I took a photo of the shark under the water with my hands.
CRAWFORD: With your hands under the water?! Not on a stick?
MITCHELL: No, my hands. So I can hold the camera. And I filmed the back of the shark. The first shark from the first incident, in which case it had a large cut down the side of its back. And I think looking at the photos, the five or six photos which I did take, it appears to almost be the same shark.
CRAWFORD: Any other notable behaviours of that animal, during that first incident?
MITCHELL: No that’s it.
CRAWFORD: Alright. Tell me about your second encounter, please.
MITCHELL: It was the day after the first one.
CRAWFORD: Oh, ok. And where were you when this happened?
MITCHELL: We were on the eastern side of the Motunui Edwards Island.
CRAWFORD: Same island, just on the eastern side?
MITCHELL: Yeah. We stayed the night in Halfmoon Bay at the Backpackers. Got a mooring for the boat. It was quite cool. So, the next morning we shot out of Halfmoon Bay, and just wanted to have a little fish before we went.
CRAWFORD: How many fish did you catch that you cleaned and put the frames back in the water on the second day?
MITCHELL: I don't think we cleaned or framed any that day.
MITCHELL: Nah. We took them home with us, and framed them at home.
CRAWFORD: So, the only thing you had in the water - other than the boat - that a shark could have potentially interacted with, was fish on the line?
CRAWFORD: Roughly, how many fish did you have on a line that day?
MITCHELL: I think we went home with five or six. Which was quite a good day's fishing.
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, there was some stimulation in terms of fish fighting on the end of a fishing line?
MITCHELL: Not majorly, not big fish. Just small Blue Cod.
CRAWFORD: Ok. What was the circumstance under which you saw that second shark?
MITCHELL: We were fishing. We were drift fishing the coastline off Edwards Island.
CRAWFORD: How far offshore?
MITCHELL: Quite close, because that was the thing that day, it was the wind that changed when we were looking for a bit of shelter. And 30 or 40 metres from shore.
CRAWFORD: What kind of depth, roughly?
MITCHELL: We were fishing around the 20-metre mark.
CRAWFORD: You hadn’t burleyed or chummed or anything like that ...
MITCHELL: There was one thing that happened.
CRAWFORD: What was that?
MITCHELL: A great big shark cage diving boat pulled up beside us.
CRAWFORD: Well that's a significant event. You have images of that as well?
CRAWFORD: Did they chum?
MITCHELL: I would believe so.
CRAWFORD: You didn’t see them?
MITCHELL: I don’t specifically remember it.
CRAWFORD: Do you remember the name of the vessel?
MITCHELL: Albatross II.
CRAWFORD: Ok. And they show up where you were fishing. Did they hail you or contact you or anything like that?
MITCHELL: Yeah, they contacted us.
CRAWFORD: Before doing anything else?
MITCHELL: No, no. They contacted us after a while. We were just drift fishing, so we’d go up to this one spot that we had, and we would drift back and catch the Cod, to another spot. And when we got there, we would drift back up, and we’d be doing that numerous times. Then they arrived, and they set up. We were drifting past the same drift line. They were trying to do things, and eventually they told us to leave, because they were trying to catch White Pointers on film.
CRAWFORD: On film? Do you remember anything else they said about why they were doing that, or who they were?
CRAWFORD: Did they ask you politely to leave?
MITCHELL: In a fairly straight forward way.
CRAWFORD: Was that on the radio?
MITCHELL: No, just yelled out. From what I remember, they were like "Hey, can you guys get out of here. We’re trying to shark cage dive here." Something like that. To which we replied, "Thank you, we’re having a very nice day too." There was a shark cruising round. But he didn’t come close to our boat that day. But we saw him from the back of the boat, just glimpses of him. Nothing like the day before.
CRAWFORD: Did you notice anything else about that shark?
MITCHELL: The experience that I remember was almost more of a stalking fashion. Where you saw it downstream of the boat by 10 metres, in a very stealth manner. Coming in almost unnoticeable. Coming in deep and low, perhaps. Yeah.
Copyright © 2017 Warrick Mitchell and Steve Crawford