Man defends 'shark surfing'

By Kate Shuttleworth, Kiri Gillespie, Genevieve Helliwell of the Bay of Plenty Times -
Photo / Facebook
Photo / Facebook

Two men who made a video of a friend surfing on the carcass of a shark being towed behind a boat and posted it on Facebook have defended their actions.

Mark Collins said he regretted his decision to make a video of his friend Eddie Bithell surfing on a dead thresher shark in the Western Bay of Plenty but said the story had been misrepresented.

The shark was shown tied behind Zane Wright's boat by its tail and towed while Mr Bithell "surfed'' on it.

Mr Collins posted the video on his Facebook page last week without the permission of Mr Bithell.

Mr Wright, 23, said he felt regretful and responsible about the incident but said he hadn't told his side of the story.

"I go fishing up to twice a week. I've been fishing all my life and never killed a shark. It's not something that was planned. I've been game fishing since I could walk and caught hundreds of sharks and always gone out of my way to release them unharmed. I'm all for shark conservation and disgusted about what happens commercially with long lining,'' he said.

Mr Wright said they had been out sword fishing when they had hooked what the thought was a swordfish.

"We usually send them on their way but this one was hooked in the tail and it ended up drowning, which is unfortunate. There is nothing we could have done about it. We've had people say you could have cut the line if you suspected it was shark, but it's not what I do, I don't want to leave sharks swimming around with metres of line in them,'' he said.

"That's what's really stirred me up about this, nobody's got my side of the story, or knows what I am for and how we fish,'' he said.

Mr Collins said they didn't set out to kill a shark.

"They think we've gone out to murder a shark and we've ridden it while it was alive and tortured it and that's completely not what's happened.''

Mr Wright said they had taken the dead shark to shore and left it overnight before taking to back out to sea the next day.

"The shark had been dead for around 30 hours. It was on a separate trip, we were taking the shark back out to feed it into the food chain,'' he said.

Mr Collins said he made the video during the second trip with the dead shark.

"We fixed it to the boat and we took it in and left it there all night. We had a few celebrations with mates. The next day we came in and weighed it and then the next day, that's when the video happened.''

The pair said the claims they had killed a shark and ridden or had done it while it was alive were untrue.

"I didn't surf it, but it's my boat and it all comes back to me,'' said Mr Wright.

They said Mr Bithell, who did not want to comment, was embarrassed about the video.

"He didn't know the video was going to be posted online,'' said Mr Collins.

"The video's gone; it's been deleted, I think it was a stupid idea now,'' said Mr Wright.

He said he did not get his friend's permission to post the video.

They said they had not received a call from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), former Ministry Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) yet.

MPI confirmed they were investigating the shark surfing event.

"We encourage public reports of incidents of this nature,'' said the spokesperson for the ministry.''

Auckland environmentalist Catherine Cassidy contacted the Bay of Plenty Times in disgust at the video, which she said was brought to her attention by a shark expert in Borneo. She also contacted the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and questioned what rules were in place at game fishing clubs that allowed "this kind of fishing".

Ms Cassidy, a zoologist, said the video clearly showed the men claiming the "fun" of shark surfing. She said the act was "a shockingly disrespectful attitude to have to some of the rare marine animals in the world".

"We see people working hard worldwide to establish shark sanctuaries, where every shark counts, and then we see acts like this from a so-called developed country. It is heartbreaking and offensive."

Among the feedback Ms Cassidy received was that the behaviour was an act of harmless fun and she should put it in perspective. "It's not harmless fun. It was cruel and disrespectful. Respect for the oceans and marine life begins at home. People wouldn't tie a slaughtered cow to the back of a van and drive it through a street, would they?"

A spokeswoman for Tauranga Game Fishing Club said the club did not wish to comment. "We do not wish to be involved," she said.

President of the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council, Mark Connor, said the actions of the men involved were "very disappointing".

"We have a game fishing code of standards and we try to do everything we can as humanely as possible and this certainly sits outside our standards," he said. "It doesn't sound like a legal issue but we do not condone this type of behaviour at all and we would be very disappointed if it was one of our members or someone associated with the club. It's disappointing. People like this can give us a bad name because we try to do things as correctly as we can, both morally correct and legally correct."

Mr Connor said sharks were sometimes dragged backward behind a boat as they could be hard to kill and tough to get inside the boat.

"But surfing on a shark is certainly not acceptable."

Department of Conservation marine scientist and shark expert Clinton Duffy said the shark was a bigeye thresher. He said the species had a major decline in numbers in the north Atlantic and north Pacific Oceans but was not significantly affected in New Zealand waters.

"I don't know about the wisdom of shark surfing but the shark itself is fairly common."

Brett Keller, owner of Tauranga Marine Charters, said the men involved were "a couple of fools."

"What would have happened if it had taken a leg off? Then they wouldn't be going on about it and getting attention," he said. "I'm not a big fan of catching sharks, I prefer to see them swimming around and if I catch something, I like to eat it. Those thresher sharks are pretty harmless, not if you're a fish, but they're harmless to humans. These guys are putting on a show for their 15 seconds of fame, showing they're macho, bravado, and I think it's pretty pathetic really."

Tauranga SPCA animal welfare inspector Jason Blair said it wasn't likely the actions breached any laws but the SPCA "frowned upon" mistreatment of animals, dead or alive. National MP Simon Bridges said the men could have breached animal welfare laws if there was cruelty against the animal when it was alive.

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