A shark cage, a chum trail and no shark
Who would have imagined! I have been thinking of sharks since I opened my first dive shop at the Azores in 1995. Out there, close to the underwater canyons of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, prey is abundant. Therefore, the possibility to encounter sharks in this region should be significant, I believed. I ingenuously bought a shark cage made of steel in Germany which I shipped to the Azores. But how do you get to actually see a shark? I heard of Rodney Fox and the great white sharks and was also aware of the blue sharks in San Diego. But how to attract those animals in the way that they approach a boat closely was a mystery to me. I ordered 50 litres of cow blood and half a pig in the butchery. Maybe it should work with these items, I thought. I attached the pork meat to a ten meter long piece of rope and afterwards to a buoy. At São Caetano a fisherman took me to the sea and after a mile or so I set a cow blood chum trail in the water. I lowered the meat in the water and then simply waited for something to happen. Of course no sharks showed up and after three days I pulled the putrid meat out of the water again. I simply left the shark cage in São Caetano.
Looking back at those days I now notice that I did the right approach – only in the wrong area and with the wrong matieral. For the present my efforts came to an end. Next time I arrived from Germany I discovered that my cage became a cattle fence instead and my “shark ambitions” were put on hold for a while.
A dead spermwhale and a lot of sharks
Years passed but in August 2009 I came upon a dead sperm whale floating in the ocean surrounded by scavenging sharks. I finally had found them! I took pictures and sent them to shark expert Professor Dr. Erich Ritter which was the first and the most important step. Erich Ritter determined the predators as blue and mako sharks and since then has been very interested in this area. For the following summer we planned our first SharkSchool and a preliminary research trip. We also contacted local researchers from the University of Horta.
The baptism of the sharkschool
In June 2011 the team of Pico Sport/Scuba Azores started its collaboration with Professor Dr. Erich Ritter and his SharkSchool™. Erich Ritter joined us at the start of the season to train our dive guides and skippers as the world’s first certified shark guides. 25 divers and skippers from three local dive operations participated in the course and successfully got a certificate. With the increasing popularity of shark diving worldwide it is our aim to set an example for safe shark diving.
While the SharkSchool was about to start, we discovered a location that was known to have Hammerhead Shark near the coast. Erich explored the site and identified the species as the rare Smooth Hammerhead shark. When the first SharkSchool finished, we continued to explore the Condor Bank. Using Erich’s method, we managed to have the first shark approach our boat within just 15 minutes. Several blue sharks and a mako sharks appeared out of the blue and the paradise of shark was born!
The privilege to see the last blue sharks
We regularly dive at the three shark spots around Pico: At Condor Bank, at Azores Bank and at the Pé de Sousa Bank. Many divers have joined us since summer 2009 to observe and enter the world of these magnificent ocean predators. Unfortunately there are not much locations left in the world where you can observe this top shark species, because most of them ended up in shark-fin soup. This is why it is getting harder and harder to meet those marine vagabonds. However, we frequently see blue sharks which often curiously and calmly approach the divers up close to an arm’s length. Often we wonder who is observing whom…Additionally we are visited by mako sharks which show up regularly, although they are a little bit more shy and faster than blue sharks. The combination of a visibility of up to 50 meters and an average water temperature of 22°C – 24°C often allows for shark dives of up to 120 minutes.
The Future of the SharkSchool
Pico Sport/Scuba Azores and SharkSchool continuously extend the programme of shark observations at the Azores. Several other locations are explored as well which will enable us to go shark diving all around Pico and Faial in the future.
Sharks Deserve Protection
Sadly every year approximately one million sharks get caught around the Azores. It is the aim of Sharkschool and Pico Sport/Scuba Azores to try to make the people rethink. Because sharks as diving objective are much more worth than serving as fish and chips in Europe or as shark fin soup in Asia. Several conservation programmes are proceeding and the representative of the EU for Oceans is involved. Divers are being called upon to take part in conservation initiatives and become aware of the threats which our oceans and its inhabitants are facing. The Azores are in the process of becoming one of the world’s top destinations for shark experiences. I look forward to a further future together with these beautiful animals.
Highlights of Diving at the Azores
- Blue sharks and mako sharks around the Islands of Pico and Faial
- Mobula rays at Princess Alice Bank
- Wahoos and tuna at Banco João Castro
- Goliath grouper in Corvo
- Archaeological dives at Terceira
- Cave diving at Faial
- Diving with whale sharks at Santa Maria
- Diving in lava tunnels and arcades at Pico
- Diving with stingrays at Pico
…and who knows what will come next, maybe diving with squids? We are working on it! ☺
We would also like to mention our proven and tested dives along the coast with amazing subaqueous landscape, the Rock of Rays close to Madalena, steep faces with black corals and much more. Our tours for whale watching have been attracting interest throughout the world for a long time. Pico is the meeting point of more than 55 different species of marine mammals in the Atlantic Ocean. We are searching for the sperm whale “Moby Dick” daily, observe blue whales and dolphins. For people who would like to observe dolphins Pico has been an insider tip for several years!
Pico – the undiscovered beauty
„By the way“ the beautifully flourishing Island of Pico has a lot to offer with its wine culture, the highest mountain of Portugual (Pico 2,351 m) and a diversified landscape and climate. The island is a microcosm of friendly hospitable people, excellent food and exquisite wine. The Azores are calling and the following video gives you a foretaste of it!
Frank Wirth, at the Azores with Pico Sport/Scuba Azores since 1995.