The blue sharks of Pico

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…

Chum Recipe
The recipe for success

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.

Waiting, waiting and waiting… Patience is a key ingredient of shark diving.

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!


The lifechanger

So, where do I start… It has been a while since the last post and a lot of things in my life have changed. As a consequence, this blog also changed. No longer are we (Sandra & me) in this together and this blog will now follow me on following my dream – starting now!

Riding into the clouds

I found myself in a crossroads in life these past few months and I found myself in a position that I got to think ‘What do I really want in this life?’. And the things that was always at the top of my mind, was how much I loved diving and sharks. Ever since I started diving in 2007 I was hooked but the past few years I didn’t make as much time for it as I wish I would have. The busy life… you know it. Work, sports, household, friends, living in Amsterdam, etc…

This is always an ‘easy’ excuse. Busy. With what?
Does it really make me happy? Wouldn’t I be better of on some sort of paradise where I could just walk into the water, enjoy the weightlessness and the beauty of the underwater world? Where I could just be there, with nature in its purest form? Sure, life was pretty great for me. A nice place to live, lots of things to do, many great friends in the area…

But life just showed me I should rethink where I was headed.

The only thing that still kept me from really doing it and leaving this life was my job. I must say I really do like my job as a process engineer at ICL as it gives me lots of challenges and great career perspective. At first I tried to arrange some sort of  6 months sabbatical but this was not possible. So I had a choice to make… Quit my job and all the certainty that it brings but being able to follow my dream, or just stay in this safe place.

Sure, not having a safe return option is scary, but it´s even more scary to pass on this beautiful dream. So there I go, I quit my job in the last hours of March and open this door! Not as an April fools day joke – I did publish it April 1st – but for real.

Of course it was not without any preparation on making the adventure real; I’ve been contacting quite some people I know in the diving branch and thanks to Sander Evering I contacted Pico Sport on the Azores. I sent my sort-of job application and they got back to me with an offer to come and work from May until at least September. I visited Pico on the Azores once before in 2016, so I already had seen a bit of the island and figured I could very well be living there… Especially since my most favorite animals, sharks, are also in these waters and there’s whales, dolphins and also colorful underwater life!

And the good thing – I don’t just get to be teaching open water classes in the sand and on the shallow reefs but will really be having a far more diverse job! Nice dive sites with colorful fishes, sharks, mobulas, whales, dolphins and as far as I’ve heard and experienced so far there’s a great team of superenthousiastic people. And ocean awareness and shark conservation is high on their priorities so that’s something I want to dive into!

I’ll be back soon with the next post but for now: from May 21st I’ll be on this beautiful island I’ll call home from then! Follow me on my preparations and adventure by following this blog, the Instagram and my personal Instagram!


Throwback Tuesday’s – Diving in Egypt

It’s already more than a year ago now, but looking at the photographs and video it still feels like last week.

I’ve been diving in the Red Sea once before in 2008 a, so that was a long time ago. Being one of the best places for diving in the world, I decided to go for it again. This time we chose the M/Y Sea Serpent for the Liveaboard and take the Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone route. Promises of large schools of fish, turtles, pristine reefs and SHARKS! Before this trip, I had only seen a small nurse shark, asleep… And diving with sharks was my number 1 dream, which finally came true!

So I won’t be boring you with a long story this time – I’ll let the photographs do the talking!

The M/Y Sea Serpent


During the check dives, we didn’t go out all the way to the goal – diving the Brothers, Daedalus or Elphinstone, but instead did some nice Red Sea dives near Hurghada. There was an abundance of fish, even though it was relatively close to the shore. Good to see!


Then came the time for us to move on to the real deal – and the chance for encountering sharks increased! Sherif, the guide, the purest form of shark lover, gave us all an extensive briefing on how to behave when we would encounter sharks. Not because they’re dangerous but because they get scared off easily, the last thing we would want happening.

And there she was – my first proper shark in sight! The Oceanic Whitetip, or Carcharhinus Longimanus because of it’s long pectoral fins seen as its hands
She came so close with her cute pilot fish – it was incredible. We maybe had 10 minutes with her around. I didn’t want that moment to end.

In the end we saw three different Oceanic Whitetips, a Thresher shark and Scalloped Hammerhead. These were too shy to come close enough for good photo, so that’s something we still owe you.

Moving on to Daedalus, we hoped for the Hammerheads to appear in large numbers on the North side of the reef. We were less lucky than the group a week before who saw 20 – we encountered zero. That’s just how nature works.

The beautiful sunrise at Daedalus – even better with us being the only boat which is quite unique

After several dives on the North side, hoping to encounter the hammerheads, the group decided to also dive under the boat. A great surprise was to find three Silky sharks swimming right under us!

After the dives at Daedalus there was some time before sunset to go and have a look at and in the lighthouse.

The sunset as seen from the lighthouse is amazing. You can also see where the reef ends and the sea takes over.

Then for the final part we moved on to Elphinstone – with promises of gigantic coral fans and steep walls into the depth. And again, a high likelihood for sharks!

Coming back to the boat, an investigative and kind Oceanic Whitetip was swimming around. She was coming up close, checking me out. It’s such an incredible and wonderful shark – I could really feel her curiosity, checking me out, up close. It was lovely being less than half a meter apart from such a beautiful creature. I could feel her looking at me and I only felt love for her, not being scared for a millisecond, even when she almost touched my GoPro (see the video below for footage!)

Unfortunately, we only had one dive at this fantastic dive site due to the rough seas. So we moved on. The good thing was that at the new site, we could do a night dive – one of my other favourite things!

After another couple of dives on the following day, we had to return to the port of Hurghada. We faced quite rough seas and almost everybody on board got seasick. Good thing the crew had the strong anti-motion-sickness pills! 🙂

Arriving back in the port of Hurghada, there was nothing left to do besides cleaning the diving gear and drinking a final beer in the evening – going through all the fantastic photo’s and video’s everyone had made by that point. The video we made can be seen on YouTube:

We would like to thank the Sea Serpent crew and especially Sherif our guide and shark whisperer for the wonderful trip and we’ll come back for sure!