Finally, the blue sharks have appeared at the boats of Pico Sport! After days and days of chumming, some weeks ago I had my first encounter with a blue shark. For 90 minutes I was in the water with him – a large 3 meter male blue shark. Together with six customers, I got to experience the shark’s curiosity firsthand. Since that first encounter, we’ve had many successful shark dives and the shark season is far from being over!
Chum, chum, chum…
I call it the dark side of shark diving. Making the chum is a task which is at the least to be called interesting. You get a couple of fishes, mostly bonito’s, chop them into pieces and make the three ingredients for a successful shark dive: chum, pieces and heads&tails. It’s a messy job, but without the chum, the sharks wouldn’t find their way to our boat in the blue desert.
Once we get out there with a boat, we hang the bait basket with heads and tails in it to keep the sharks interested when they arrive. They love to bump it and even testing if they can get a bite of what’s inside. Then starts the job that requires the most patience – the chumming itself. The pieces, blood and guts put in this ‘fish soup’ is mashed up and diluted a bit with water to make it somewhat uniform. This is what we call the chum and put in the water bit by bit to create a trail that the shark can find and follow it’s way to our boat. While chumming the best situation is to have a slight current one way, and wind making the boat drift in the other direction – this makes the trail very long. And one note: try to use chum that’s fresh – it doesn’t stink as badly! 😉
Hours and hours out on the Atlantic Ocean
For the first weeks we tried to get the sharks to come to our boats, we didn’t have any luck. The places we do this is always a seamount. These are places where sharks tend to linger in the deeper part of the mount, on the lookout for food. Currently, not a lot is known about the population around the Azores yet – it’s a topic the university in Faial is actively researching. At first we went to our regular spot just off the Faial/Pico channel and a couple of times. Three times we tried, three times no luck. So we decided to try the Azores Bank as there were reports of sharks being spotted by fishermen over there. On the way back from Princess Alice on our liveaboard Narobla we tried it for four hours and again, nothing.
This was getting us worried, only the ‘classic’ spot remained: condor banks. Condor is a big seamount southwest from Faial, at about an hour-and-half from Madalena. Reaching depths of 2300m on the outer edges and having the ‘summit’ at around 180m it’s the perfect place for sharks. Six consecutive hours we were chumming on this ‘shark hotspot’. But again, we were let down. Were the sharks even still around?! Has there been too much shark fishing? We heard some reports of Spanish fishing boats being around specifically fishing for sharks. Was the blue shark population thát low now that we weren’t able to find them anymore?
Almost two weeks went by without any successful shark dive. Luckily the University sent us a photograph from one of their camera’s mounted on buoys along the channel. This gave us some hope – they were still around! On the 12th of July, one of our boats finally got lucky and had a big male blue shark around, after almost 5 hours of chumming! Two days later I was the lucky staff member to do the shark dive and we also got a shark – this time handed over from a boat of CW, our neighbouring company. I got in the water quickly after the CW divers were getting out of the water but I saw the shark disappearing in the blue. The clients were all on the lines, but no shark around. Duarte, our skipper, decided it was time to chum big and that worked – he came back!
This blue shark was extremely relaxed and curious – with his pectoral fins in an ‘open’ airplane-like position. This big boy came to check out every single diver in the water at centimeters distance. He wasn’t shy to make contact, bumping his pectoral fins into me at least five times and almost bumping the cameras and strobes in the water. He seemed to love having his picture taken, as he swam by gently and elegantly, almost as if he was posing! For a full 90 minutes we got to enjoy his presence – I could’ve gone on for hours, but my air was already getting seriously low (Just a little under 50bar, really! 😉
Words cannot express the joy and excitement of having such an incredibly beautiful, elegant and powerful creature around you. I could clearly see his eye checking me out, top to bottom, as he swam by just centimeters in front of me, circling me, and coming back for another go. Just wow. For this, I think pictures do more than words:
Sharks and the future
The future for sharks does not look to bright at the moment. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of shark fishing still going on, from commercial fishing for fins and shark meat to shark fishing tournaments. Sharks mature quite late and have few pups. This makes it hard for the population to stay healthy when they are being fished. In the Azores it is still unknown what the population is, but what we do know is that there is intensive fishing on blue sharks and mako sharks as there are no official fishing limits even though these species are listed as vulnerable.
Shark Trust is actively campaigning to get science-based catch limits as these pelagic species are essential for our oceans. Without catching limits, there is simply no future for any species with the efficiency at which we humans are able to fish. Please support this campaign by at the least signing the petition! Let’s join forces and prevent that in the near future, sharks will only exist in pictures and let’s bring awareness about these beautiful creatures into the world! As Jaques Cousteau said “People protect what they love” so let’s make sure people love sharks!