Kayakers’ voyage turns into ‘terrifying’ encounter with ‘giant’ great white
A Nelsonian who was stalked by a great white while fishing on sit on kayaks with his family says he still sees the shark’s fin in his mind’s eye every day, weeks after the incident.
Adam Bothwell is pretty comfortable at sea as a keen fisher and surfer. On the morning of Saturday, November 18, he set out to fish off Rabbit Island in his kayak, accompanied by his 10-year-old son Alfie and fiancee Cara Wells in another kayak.
They’d bought a new sit-on kayak for Wells to try out, but progress across the choppy waves and incoming tide down the Horse Beach end of the island was slow.
About a kilometre offshore, the trio baited up their lines with squid and put them down. It was low tide, and the water was only three or four metres deep.
They had only just gone in, when Adam saw something out of the corner of his eye. His first thought was that it was a whale – a couple of weeks previously he’d seen pilot whales in the same spot.
But as it got closer, he saw the distinctive pointed fin. Reeling their lines in quickly, within seconds, it was about two metres away from their kayaks.
Having seen his share of nature documentaries, Adam recognised it as “without a doubt a giant great white”.
Its fin was “fat” and “ripped up”.
“I’d compare it to like a Jaws fin,” he told Stuff, “it was pretty horrific looking”.
The trio decided to attempt to slowly and gently paddle away with a minimum of splashing, but had only moved forward a couple of metres when the shark turned and pointed straight for them, and began to “stalk”.
At that point, Adam’s heart began to clamour, and he clicked into survival mode.
“It wasn’t until it started following us that I was like, man, this could go so wrong so fast. Obviously I have got my diving knife on my kayak.
But I didn’t even pick that up .... what’s that going to do – they charge you and bit your kayak, you’d be in the water pretty quick. There’s nothing you could do with something that size”.
He was also acutely aware of how the shark could respond.
“You see those videos online where they will go up and bite the motor or the side of a dinghy to see what it is,” he said.
“If it did that to a kayak, you’re either in the water, or your legs are gone, because you are sitting on top of the water.”
Halfway back to the beach, the shark lost interest and disappeared. Adam worried about families swimming at the beach, unaware that a 14-foot shark, one and half times the length of the kayak, was in relatively shallow waters nearby.
His son expressed relief. “I’m glad that's over,” Alfie told his dad, who was thinking about how keen he was to get on to dry land.
After reading articles in the news about several recent shark sightings in the vicinity, Adam called the Department of Conservation to report his family’s encounter.
Understandably, Alfie is not keen to go back out on the water anytime soon. Looking back on it now, Adam said it was a “cool experience”.
“But still terrifying,” he said, adding that he still pictures the “freakish” dorsal fin in his mind’s eye, two weeks later. “Luckily, he wasn’t too interested.” According to the Department of Conservation, great white sharks are present around the New Zealand coastline all year round, but most encounters are between December and May.
Shark sightings peak over spring and summer as several coastal shark species “move inshore to pup and feed on abundant inshore fish”.