Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I'm Sorry I Brought My Sharks to Your Beach Outing

There are big sharks in New Zealand. I'd heard about the bronze whaler sharks and how they're attracted to spear fishing but now I'm a firm believer. We headed out to Great Barrier Island on January 15 to check it out while we still have time to do that sort of thing. I shot a couple of smallish fish (a butterfish and a blue cod for those of you keeping track) at one anchorage on the east coast with no shark sightings. A couple of days later at Rakitu island (a small island off the east coast of Great Barrier), a 7 foot bronze whaler startled me a bit by surfacing about three feet behind our dinghy while I was leaning over its transom to clean the blue moki I'd shot earlier.

A couple of days later we were anchored in Miner's cove on the west coast of Great Barrier. There was a nice little pinnacle right outside the cove so we rowed the dinghy over and got in the water. Christine had her camera and I had my speargun. I eventually found an 80 cm kingfish to shoot. He was a little reluctant to die so there was a good deal of stabbing going on and that resulted in a good deal of blood in the water. We didn't want to put the bloody fish in our little dinghy with the two of us already in there so we decided to tow the (mostly) dead fish back to boat. Given the proximity of the large group of people playing on the beach just inshore of Architeuthis, that may not have been the most thoughtful decision.

We started to think about sharks about halfway back to Architeuthis. My plan was just to stop briefly at the boat to pick up my knives and whatnot and then head in to the beach (with the kingfish still in tow) and clean it there. That would minimize the mess in the dinghy and on the boat. As I was on deck getting my stuff together Christine said, "Hurry! Get the fish. Shark's coming!" I had to drop what I was doing and jump back into the dinghy. The shark - probably 8 feet or so - was only a foot or two from the fish when I yanked it out of the water. At that point I just had to accept that the dinghy was going to get a little bloody because storing the fish in the water was no longer a viable option.

I looked over at the group on the beach (around 10 to 15 people). They were at least 500 feet from us but some of them were in the water. One guy was looking over at us so I gave him the international hand signal for shark (a hand sticking off the top of the head like a dorsal fin). He seemed to understand because the kids all got out of the water in fairly short order. In retrospect, I should have just put the fish in the dinghy to begin with. There probably wasn't any real danger in the whole situation but I think it was kind of rude of me to unnecessarily chum the water near someone's beach outing.

Bronze whalers are big but they're not particularly dangerous as sharks go. There are somewhere around 30 recorded cases of these sharks biting people and I don't think any of the bites were fatal. From what I understand, these sharks have only bitten people who actually had a dead fish attached to them. People used to (and I guess some people still do) clip the fish they've speared onto their weight belt and then continue to swim around. In that situation it's not too surprising that a hungry bronze whaler might try to eat the fish and accidentally get a chunk of human along with it. When I spear a fish, I put it on a float line as quickly as possible and make sure that it's trailing out a long way behind me. If a large shark wants to take the fish before I have a chance to get it out of the water, I won't argue.

I eventually took my fish to shore and cleaned it. I went ashore as far from the other people as I could get and I didn't throw any of the fish parts in the water until they'd already left. Christine said that there were two sharks that circled Architeuthis for a while after I'd gone to shore. I'm sure they were quite disappointed.

We weren't quick enough on the draw to get pictures of the sharks but here are some other photos of Great Barrier:


Chad Burt said...

I am so so jealous.

jkibele said...

Well you'll have to come back soon and schedule enough time to get out to the islands with us. I'm slowly learning how to trick the fish. I got this one by spearing a little koheru and leaving it on the spear after reloading the gun. The kingfish came in close to look at the wounded koheru.

Shelley S/V Imagine said...

Hey Jared and Kristine...not sure you remember us, but we're David and Shelley (with our daughters Holly & Shea), I think it was in Niku Hiva that we met you...we're in Nelson, South Island NZ...glad to hear some of the PPJers made it to NZ. I'm feeling nostalgic and missing the tropics already! Hope you find lots of lovely octopi here.