Kick in the head keeps shark at bay

By Elizabeth Binning

A Bronze Whaler shark
A Bronze Whaler shark

In the end it was the bronze whaler that came off worse during a terrifying man-versus-shark encounter near Whitianga this week.

Cousins Kent Pickmere, 28, and Ben Hall, 35, had been enjoying a dive at a spot known as The Twins when they surfaced to find an unwelcome guest on Monday afternoon.

The cousins had earlier hung some recently caught kingfish from the side of their boat and were returning to it with an old anchor they had found when they noticed the shark lurking nearby.

"We were about 10m away from the boat and noticed that one of the kingfish's body was missing," said Mr Pickmere. "The next minute, my cousin taps me on the shoulder and points at this massive bronze whaler."

The shark, which he said was about 2m long, was about 7m from the men but quickly swam closer.

"It just kept swimming at us."

When it got to about a metre away, the shark suddenly turned, leaving the cousins worried about its intentions.

"We kept swimming towards the boat. We still had this anchor in our hands and the next minute, he comes swimming at us again, right at us."

Mr Pickmere said the shark dipped in front of them, so his cousin threw the anchor at it. But this deterred the shark only briefly, and within seconds it was back.

The cousins protected themselves with a hook they were holding.

"We put it off with a cray hook to the nose and it swam off again."

It was when the shark came back for a fourth look that the cousins started to really get concerned.

"We were just trying to get into the boat but it came back again and rolled onto its side ... That's when my cousin kicked it in the head with a flipper."

The kick to the head bought the men enough time to climb into the safety of their 2m craft.

"It was pretty terrifying. You see it coming at you but you don't really know what to do," said Mr Pickmere.

"The worrying thing about the whole thing was when it turned on its side, because they attack like that."

The cousins had been diving at the location for years, but Mr Pickmere said he'd never seen a shark there. But locals say it is not uncommon for bronze whalers to appear every now and then around the Coromandel.

The shark didn't seem too worried by the anchor graze, the prod to the nose or the blow to the head and returned for a feed on a kingfish head later that afternoon.

LOOK WHO'S COMING FOR DINNER

Kent Pickmere and Ben Hall couldn't have planned things better if they'd been trying to attract a bronze whaler, shark expert Clinton Duffy told the Herald last night.

Though the creatures are generally not aggressive, they can become excited when there is blood and guts, or dead kingfish, in the vicinity and have been known to try to intimidate other fish - or fishermen - into surrendering their catch.

Mr Duffy, who works for the Department of Conservation, said the shark's behaviour sounded "pretty typical of quite an excited animal" and one that was starting to get "fairly stroppy".

He said it might be of some consolation to Mr Pickmere and Mr Hall that bronze whalers, while being a larger species of shark, fed mostly on school fish and therefore had small teeth.

As sharks have lateral vision, it was possible the animal was simply "trying to get a better view" when it swam sideways at the men.

BRONZE WHALER

Length: Up to 3.3m.
Weight: Up to 300kg.
Common around north of North Island in summer.
Comes inshore from late spring.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 23 Dec 2014 07:05:27 Processing Time: 590ms