Posted on Friday, 3 April 2015
After a very long 36 hour journey from Cape Town to Stewart Island in New Zealand it was not very heartening to hear the words of our taxi driver “If you can’t cuddle them, kill them!”
This was his general feeling for wildlife in New Zealand and it certainly seemed to set the tone of the trip.
We were back in New Zealand to spend a week filming for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week 2015. There is a healthy population of Great White sharks that congregate around the Titi Islands which are located very close to Steward Island in the South. More specifically the highest concentration of sharks seem to spend their time around Edwards Island which has a scattering of New Zealand fur seals loosely strewn around this particular Island.
New Zealand has become well-known for clear water visibility and good numbers of sharks making it a fantastic Great White shark cage diving area.
Unfortunately the local community in Stewart Island have not exactly embraced this new eco-tourism industry and there is a large amount of friction between the shark operators, the Islanders that are in support of the industry and those who are not.
The negative sentiment in Steward Island stems from the age old chumming debate. The authorities have therefore placed a one bait per day restriction on the operators and this made trying to achieve the objectives of the film shoot extremely challenging if not downright impossible.
Once the bait was lost to a shark it meant the day was basically over as another one could not be used.
The irony of the situation is that the islanders are opposed to chumming from shark boats but small fishing boats, of which there are quite a few, clean their fish in the exact same areas as the shark boats and nobody bats an eye.
It is very important for the industry to be regulated particularly from my point of view that the sharks and wildlife are handled and treated well. What is also important to realise is that the cage dive operators are the ones who will ultimately look after the sharks as they have a vested interest in them, so clearly a balance needs to be found and under the current regulations it seems unlikely that too many film crews will be able to achieve their goals, be they conservation or sensation orientated.
We were back in New Zealand to spend a week filming for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week 2015.
A Great White shark, and any shark for that matter, will only approach a boat if there is something there to attract it, and this also means that baiting has to be used to get the sharks to come closer to camera’s and cages.
Not only were we up against virtually impossible regulations but a number of natural factors also paid their part. A cyclone had just hit the Northern part of New Zealand which sent a large rolling swell all the way down to the Fauveux Straits where we were working. We were hoping to be able to work on the eastern side of Edwards Island which is shallower and has a beautiful canvass of a variety of kelp and seaweed with which to film the sharks against.
The big swell limited us from anchoring on this side and also churned up the water so much that visibility for diving and filming became very poor.
Despite these challenges we still had a number of Great White sharks present each day and no matter what the conditions and objectives it is always a privilege to spend time with the sharks.
Chris reported seeing up to five sharks per dive. This time round however, the sharks were far less curious and interactive as there wasn’t a dominant animal in the mix as was with Fred in 2014.
Approximately 95 Great White sharks have been tagged around the Titi Islands and info has been gathered that they arrive here between December and January each year and depart again between May and July. Their tags have recorded their movements from The Titi Island all the way into the Tropics and Australia. There also seems to be a fair amount of sexual segregation. 80% of the sharks we saw were male sharks and this was in keeping with visiting over a similar time period in 2014.
The bigger females are expected around mid to late April each year.
We saw a variety of different size sharks, the smallest being 2.5 meters and the largest just over 4 meters. We were really hoping to see a very large male shark from last year, Fed, who is just over 4.5 meters. Unfortunately we missed this incredible animal and we can only hope that he is safely making his way down to Edwards Island.
I’ll need to hold off on writing about the actual filming and storyline of this latest Air Jaws documentary as there is still more filming to be done. So, please stand by for September 2015!
To read the blogs of our 2014 New Zealand trip click on the below links:
Great White Sharks of New Zealand
Nature Experiences in New Zealand