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
1. EXPERIENCE IN AOTEAROA/NZ COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS
CRAWFORD: Ok, Warrick - let's start at the beginning. Where and when were you born?
MITCHELL: Auckland, in 1978.
CRAWFORD: How old were you when you first started spending time down here in Awarua/Big Bay?
MITCHELL: About 1 month old.
CRAWFORD: Was your family here on a seasonal basis, or full-time?
MITCHELL: The first of my life, for the first nine years, it was full-time. And after that it was on a seasonal basis.
CRAWFORD: 'Seasonal' as in being here for the summers?
MITCHELL: Being here for the springs. I would come for about two months a year.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Full-time at Big Bay till nine, then increasing Spring seasonal two month phases. It was this way until when?
MITCHELL: Till about 20 years old. Since then I've been coming here between three and six months a year.
CRAWFORD: For each of those periods, what were your major activities on coastal waters, as opposed to being up here on the river.
MITCHELL: Gathering seafood.
CRAWFORD: Specifically, what kinds of food?
MITCHELL: Mussels. Diving for Crayfish. Diving for Abalone [Pāua], and fishing off the rocks.
CRAWFORD: OK. Harvesting food was a major activity.
MITCHELL: Recreational water craft, surfing, free diving, kayaking. Which progressed to having rubber duckies, which progressed to having bigger boats.
CRAWFORD: 'Rubber duckies' as in dinghies?
MITCHELL: Inflatable boats.
CRAWFORD: Well, that's a pretty diverse set of coastal activities. Some boating, some swimming/diving, some harvesting. In addition to those experiences here in northern Fiordland, did you have experiences elsewhere in New Zealand coastal waters?
MITCHELL: Yeah, for sure. I've worked on the Barrier Reef, and sailed most of the islands in the south Pacific: Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau, Wallis and Fatuna, Tahiti, and Hawaii.
CRAWFORD: What was the reason for all that sailing? What group were you with?
MITCHELL: Crewing onboard recreational fishing boats.
CRAWFORD: 'Recreational' meaning that there were tourists, and you were contracted as crew?
MITCHELL: As crew, yeah.
CRAWFORD: When did that start?
MITCHELL: In 2000.
CRAWFORD: And has continued pretty much every year since?
MITCHELL: Yeah. Give or take a couple of years.
CRAWFORD: So, that’s part of your normal annual routine now?
MITCHELL: Oh, very much so. Yeah.
CRAWFORD: How many trips would it be normal for you to do per year?
MITCHELL: I’d do four or five trips per year.
CRAWFORD: And these can be fairly big trips. Seems it would be fair to say that you spend the majority of your time on and around the water.
MITCHELL: A significant portion of the year would be spent on the water, thankfully.
CRAWFORD: What other kinds of marine experience do you have, in different regions of New Zealand?
MITCHELL: I’ve commercially fished in the Coromandel for Snapper. Long-lining, bottom long-lining. When was that? 2010 I think.
CRAWFORD: For one season?
CRAWFORD: You were crewing on somebody’s fishing boat?
MITCHELL: Yeah. The Happy One, I think it was called.
CRAWFORD: Where did it sail out of?
MITCHELL: Whitianga. Fishing Great Barrier Island and the Mercurys. Bottom long-lining for Snapper and Gurnard. I’ve done some crewing on Blue Cod boats on Stewart Island, but only as an assistant, only for short times. But I’ve done some crewing. I’ve been out to the South Traps, which is out off Stewart Island down there. And been around Stewart Island a few times.
CRAWFORD: Ok. What other types of activities in other New Zealand waters?
CRAWFORD: Personal sailing or sailing for work?
MITCHELL: Sailing for work. Plus, I’ve taken my own boat from Bluff across to Stewart Island.
CRAWFORD: OK. But for most of the time that you were sailing, you were crewing for other people?
CRAWFORD: And if I remember correctly, that started roughly 2000?
MITCHELL: Going through to today, yeah.
CRAWFORD: Very good. Do you have any other marine experiences around New Zealand coastal waters?
MITCHELL: In regards to this, no.
2. EXPOSURE TO MĀORI/LOCAL/SCIENCE KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS
CRAWFORD: To what extent, if at all, have had any direct exposure to Science culture and knowledge? Specifically, how much has it affected your understanding of marine ecosystems?
MITCHELL: I have a diploma in Marine Studies through the Auckland Marine Studies University, which was based in the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic.
CRAWFORD: That was a diploma with a very strong Science basis to it?
MITCHELL: It was 50 percent practical and 50 percent Science-based.
CRAWFORD: When did you take that diploma?
MITCHELL: 2003 to start, then finished in 2006.
CRAWFORD: In terms of books or television programs that feature Science, do you do that type of stuff in your spare time?
MITCHELL: No, not so much.
CRAWFORD: Do you have any Scientists as mates or mentors? Or people that you have worked with in the past that might have shared with you Science ways or thinking, or knowledge about marine systems?
MITCHELL: I’m good friends with the lecturers from the Marine Studies course in the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Same line of interest, but now with regards to Māori knowledge systems. To what extent has Māori culture and knowledge affected your understanding or marine ecosystems?
MITCHELL: I have some direct Māori influence, influential people in my life. I am very interested in native New Zealand and Māori New Zealand.
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?
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: OK. When and where was the first instance?
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?
CRAWFORD: So, there were setnetters that would go from there down to Milford Sound?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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]
CRAWFORD: You said there were a couple other shark-human incidences you were aware of?
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.
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