Plaque memorial for shark victims

Barry Watkins
Barry Watkins
The memory of the gruesome deaths of Dunedin's three fatal shark attack victims has led to a heartfelt offer from a victim who lived to tell his story.

Levin businessman Barry Watkins (56) was then a 16-year-old school pupil surfing by the St Clair hot salt pool when he was attacked on March 30, 1971.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the attack, he has offered to commission a plaque to be placed on the Esplanade at St Clair in memory of the victims.

"The funny thing was [the day of the attack] I was wagging the school swimming sports at Moana Pool to go surfing," he said yesterday.

"I remember being hit and the board ending up in two halves ...

"I didn't feel anything after that.

"But, I can still remember it clearly. I can turn it on whenever I want."

Mr Watkins was the last victim of a sequence of five attacks in the 1960s and early 1970s that still has shark experts baffled.

Les Jordan died at St Clair on February 5, 1964, Bill Black at St Kilda on March 9, 1967, and Graham Hitt at Aramoana on September 15, 1968.

Surfer Gary Barton was also attacked in 1969 at St Clair.

"I met the mothers of Jordan and Black when I was recovering from my attack.

"I was still stitched up when two elderly women came into my bedroom blubbering and bawling.

"They cried and cried for their dead sons," Mr Watkins said.

"Mum made them cups of tea, which they spilled.

After they'd left, I asked Mum, `Who was that?' and Mum said it was Les Jordan and Bill Black's mothers.

"What I saw in their eyes ... it was like, `Why did you get the break? Why isn't it my son sitting up in bed?' ...

"That meeting with the mothers still stings me.

"It was terribly humbling and has stayed with me to this day.

"It was the worst feeling of my life."

The plaque would be black marble, with names and the dates and "Lost to great white sharks" inscribed on it, he said.

"We don't do things like that enough in New Zealand."

The attack in 1971 was "big news in those days, but I'm totally at terms with it now".

"I'm very opposed to those shark nets at St Clair, St Kilda and Brighton now.

"In this day and age, you can't justify it.

"You have more chance of winning Lotto than being attacked by a shark," he said.

"I just pray we never have to add any names to the plaque."

Dunedin City Council sports fields and facilities officer Harold Driver yesterday said Mr Watkins' plaque would be a welcome addition to the Esplanade: "If he wants to donate a plaque, we don't have a problem with that at all."

Auckland Department of Conservation scientific officer Clinton Duffy, who is studying the Dunedin attacks, believes a single rogue shark may have been responsible for the run of attacks in the 1960s and 1970s.

"'It's very difficult to know what was going on back then.

"It's not clear whether it was one shark or a number of sharks," he told the Otago Daily Times.

"There's been no other spate of attacks like it in New Zealand.

"It almost suggests it was a single shark involved."

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