Diving, Underwater Hunting and Sharks

Testimonio de Testimony of Poki Tane Haoa

Hundreds of divers come to Rapa Nui every year in search of some of the clearest waters on the planet which offer visibility at 60 to 70 meters (195 to 230 feet) of depth. Poki Tane Haoa, a local diver, offers his experiences in diving and submarine hunting where he is often accompanied by sharks and numerous other marine species.

Diving is a fascinating activity and being surrounded by fish, including sharks, is a wonderful feeling. I’ve never felt that the sharks were going to bite me. That’s a wrong-headed concept. Swimmers and divers die more often eating peanut butter than from shark bites. A shark is a wary fish in the presence of divers and keeps a careful distance. They don’t jump on people. They are only curious, especially in places where they don’t often see humans, such as the Motu Motiro Hiva islet, which is 12 hours in boat from Rapa Nui. In those more pristine environments, the food chain has maintained its natural balance among the fish, where the predators, such as the sharks, keep the weak and the sick from reproducing.

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When we do submarine fishing and spear any fish, blood gets in the water. The sharks smell the blood and come to share the food. They are very competitive among themselves; they all want to bite something. When they bite their prey, their eyes are protected by a nictitating membrane, a type of semi-transparent eyelid which drops down and protects the eyeball. Or put another way, they bite almost blind. They don’t see what they are swallowing and that’s a danger for us. When a diver tries to grab a fish that he’s speared with his harpoon, a shark can attack without knowing what he’s biting. That’s why we rapidly get a bleeding fish out of the water or, even better, we don’t even hunt when there are sharks around. Sharks can be found from 50 cm (20 inches) on down. When there are a lot of them, it’s best to keep calm and get out of the water. They are predators and can sense the fear of a possible prey when it moves fast or shakes. Then they know that it is something edible.

 

Poki Tane en / in Motu motiro Hiva  

Fishing on Rapa Nui is subsistence, or in other words, to eat. In the past, we took out only what was needed to eat at the moment. Today, people fish in any season, even during periods of reproduction, and it’s not only to eat but to sell. We need to have an agreement among the fishermen that we should respect the old Tapu (prohibitions) during the reproductive periods and the buyer should refuse to buy in those times. The important point for us is to maintain the traditions and, at the same time, build on them with new technology and knowledge. We see that as a complement to the traditions. Just because we apply new ideas doesn’t mean that we are no longer Rapanui fishermen, as some seem to think.

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A major issue on the Island is the lack of communication between the generations of parents and children. The older ones are reluctant to talk or share their opinions with the young people because they look at things very differently. The generations of our parents and grandparents were the patriarchs who were in charge of planning and ordering what was to be done which was then communicated to the family. Today the youngsters want to be independent and participate in the discussion on any idea or action. Many of them have studied and returned to the Island as professionals with their own opinions. This generational clash and lack of communication is serious because it limits the transference of valuable knowledge that has been acquired from ancestral experience. On the Island, there have been many studies about important aspects of fishing: the chlorophyl, the winds, the tides, the temperatures, the moon and the seasons of the year. We should collect them and bring them together as the large fishing companies do. The culture and experience of the small fishermen hold this knowledge, which they used to share with the younger generations. Today they keep quiet; they feel that the younger people aren’t interested. Of course, in the past, we used to have an abundance of fish and lobsters and a fisherman could go out for a few hours and return with plenty to eat. The kids of today think about profit. They have to fish for at least 6 to 8 hours – sometimes even 30 hours – before the work is profitable. In the past, with one tuna fish, everyone ate and it was enough. Today, they feel that they need 15 to be satisfied and happy.

Technology has changed us, too. Nobody fishes with a line made of human hair and a Mangai (hook) of stone or bone any more. The older men accepted the change of Mangai for the metal hook and lure, but they maintain their methods of fishing large catch, such as tuna fish, amberjack, shark and others. The traditional method, that works very well even today, is to tie a chunk of bait to a stone and throw it into the sea. Tuna fish usually won’t eat chopped bait, but they’ve gotten accustomed to it throughout Polynesia.

Ideally, we could complement the old methods with the new technology that exists today, like rods with hooks that are specific for different types of fish. Those rods can imitate live fish. For example, the Popper lure acts like fish which are hunting smaller prey which simulates a situation that the tuna fish recognize. The Jigging imitates fish that are injured or sick; the Rapala lure simulates live sardines and the Ngu, a fish that is fleeing. Fishing is a lot of fun. There is suspense until the end. You need luck, almost like playing the lottery. When you first catch a 400 kg (880 pound) fish, there is no celebration. The most important thing is to get it into the boat and the risk is that it will escape. There is a lot of adrenaline involved.

We often will dive around the Island up to about 10 or 15 meters (33 to 50 feet), although some can do free-diving up to 35 meters (115 feet). In the past, lung capacity was very important and there were families with that gift. Today it’s not as important as the different techniques that can be used to develop ability, such as yoga, techniques of relaxation and getting accustomed to the lack of oxygen, teaching the body to resist to the point of convulsion. Today we don’t come up kicking as we used to, but use a technique more like a fish with a single fin. If we apply techniques with a constant weight and swimfins, it’s possible to get to 129 meters (420 feet) of depth. Of course, those athletes come out blue after holding on for a bit more than eleven minutes. Here we are still very far from those international levels.

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