Poaching sharks: The sequel

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 31/12/2012
Robin Holmes
COLIN SMITH/Fairfax NZ
KINGI HIT: Nelson man Robin Holmes with the spear fishing gear he was using at the Glen when a bronze whaler shark attacked the kingfish he had just caught.

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A close encounter with a bronze whaler shark has not put diver Robin Holmes off spear fishing, but he did avoid going in the water the next day.

The Nelson freshwater scientist was spearfishing off the shoreline at The Glen, Tasman, about 8pm on Friday when the kingfish he had speared was suddenly, but fortunately for Holmes, the shark's pick of the menu for that night's dinner.

It follows the emergence of a dramatic picture of a large shark taking a just-caught smaller shark off Kaiteriteri Beach near Nelson, which went viral on social media.

The shark, which Holmes said was around two metres long and clearly a bronze whaler, appeared out of nowhere as he was 3-4m from retrieving the kingfish, having gathered in the shooting line.

He was about 100m out to sea in about 10-15m of water in drizzly, overcast conditions which allowed for good visibility underwater.

Holmes said he was on the edge of the Horoirangi Marine Reserve, and had already done a few dives when a school of kingfish came along.

"I dived down and shot one. It was about 10kg and I'd just dived down to grab it when I saw this shark come in real fast and pass underneath the fish.

"I thought, ‘s...', and went to the surface. I saw it circling around me, then it came in and hit the kingi.

"Yeah, I was freaking out a bit, but the shark was behaving as if I didn't exist."

Holmes said he stayed calm, and went to the surface with his eyes glued to what was going on.

"I didn't want to splash about, but I was mesmerised. I could feel the fish on the end of the spear but when the shark grabbed it, it was tugging pretty violently."

The shark ripped the fish clean off the spear. Holmes was able to pull in the spear gun with the rope connecting it to a surface buoy, and re-load the gun.

"I pulled it in and loaded it pretty quick, and told other guys out there that there was a shark in the area."

He then swam calmly back to shore, "freaked out" but excited too.

"It was actually an awesome sight. I could see the seafloor from the top and was looking down as it rolled over and showed its underbelly," he said.

"The most amazing thing was how fast it came in. I was a bit shaken up but went home and had a beer."

His partner Phaedra Terezaki was disappointed to have missed out on a kingfish for dinner.

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Holmes, a freshwater ecologist at Nelson's Cawthron Institute, was used to spearfishing in Otago where sealions presented more of a hazard, and had seen sharks while surfing on the southern coastline. He was aware that spear fishers up north often contended with bronze whalers.

He applied the theory that on the law of averages, the more time he spent in the water the more likely he would be to one day have a shark encounter.

He said more spear fishers had taken an interest in the waters off The Glen, because it was a good place to shore dive, and that another spear fisher had had a similar experience on Saturday. "Bronze whalers are always there but they're getting used to people, and the more exposure they have to people the bolder they get."

In April 2011, Nelson surfer Laine Hobson was lunged at by a 2m bronze whaler off nearby Snapper Point, which left him with a punctured hand and a healthier respect for creatures that lurk in the deep.

The shark nudged him in the leg first, came back for another nudge, then leapt thrashing on to his board.

Department of Conservation shark expert Clinton Duffy said at the time that the encounter with the bronze whaler was unusual as they were typically more attracted to spear fishers, when they could become persistent and aggressive.

Duffy said it was unlikely that a shark that size could eat a person, but said the shark had the potential to inflict a serious injury.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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