Project 2016 – Sharks of Azores

Shark photographing – The story behind

Author: Alin Miu

Our project’s main goal was photographing the sharks in the Azore archipelago. The islands are situated in the Atlantic Ocean and are under the jurisdiction of the country of Portugal, as an autonomous region. The destination was chosen after an in-depth research about the shark species around the European nature reserves. The decision came even more naturally when we also saw the Azores were both a protected nature reserve and a famous shark diving region.

On the field, we discovered a different situation when we arrived there than what we read online. From the people that are diving daily there, the sharks aren’t doing that well.

Pico Island – Azores

There is an area of the Azores where a Portuguese university was conducting a marine research program for the past 10 years. The area was restricted for fishing boats and sport fishing. Thus, the success rate of seeing sharks during a dive were around 90%. More importantly, you could see about 5-8 sharks on a single dive.

Last year the university ended the research program and retrieved all the equipment from the water. What do you think happened? A couple of fishing boats appeared and manage to capture 250.000 tons of shark! Until the authorities managed to declare it as a nature reserve, the damage was already done, causing economic damage to the three islands.

Underwater view – Azores
Moray Eel – Azores

When we reached Pico and started telling the local diving operators about our project, their reactions were very reserved. It took a couple of days until we got to know each other better and we discovered the entire story. The problem is that now the dive centers have stopped promoting shark diving. Why? Now the chances of seeing a shark while on a dive are around 30%.

Our photographic project seemed bound for failure. The guides were reassuring us that we will see sharks but only half-heartedly. After 3 days of seeing no sharks whatsoever I decided to have a more honest discussion with the guide.

He suggested I join a group of divers that were trying to attract sharks with a sort of “fish soup” they were throwing in the water. The next day that’s exactly what I did. We were 7 divers and 2 guides, plus the skipper. After 45 minutes the boat stopped in the middle of the Ocean, on top of an underwater mountain where sharks were known to feed.

After a detailed briefing about what we were NOT allowed to do and other logistical details, the skipper started pouring a mix of entrails and fish parts into the water from a plastic bucket.

Time was going by quite slowly and the other divers weren’t very optimistic because they tried the same strategy yesterday and it didn’t work at all (even after 5 hours of patient waiting). I preferred to prepared my equipment and not be part of their pessimistic conversation. After 30 minutes there were no sharks in sight. Suddenly, a diver points something out in the water. Some fins! Some dolphin fins. “If sharks see dolphins they get scared and swim away”, continued the commentary.

Each of us returned to their activities. Some divers decided to have lunch in the meanwhile.

Sharkkkk!!!! The skipper showed us a shadow in the water close to the boat. Everybody gathers on the side of the boat and starts looking in the water. I suddenly see the elongated silhouette of a blue shark. I grab the Olympus underwater photography system and start filming with the underwater case still on. There was no time for other settings.

The guides gave us the last indications before entering the water. We put on our scuba tanks on an start slowly entering the water, trying to make as less noise as possible.

Blue Shark – Top view_1
Blue Shark – Top view_2

I then had the opportunity to dive alongside the most elegant creatures I have ever seen underwater. The blue shark is a very curious animal which closely investigates everything that seems interesting… very closely. Our fluid and relaxed movement didn’t give us any reason to be tense. My only concern was taking the photographs that I was hoping for. The shark was on the same page as I was and came close to me about 3 times, once even so close he even touched the underwater camera case.

Blue Shark – Portret_1
Blue Shark – Portret_2

The shark eventually got bored of us and swam away into the blue. We returned to the boat more relaxed and with huge smiles on our faces. I looked at a few photos on the camera and the results seemed promising.All’s well when it ends well, as the saying goes.

Blue Shark – Close-up_1
Blue Shark – Close-up_2

The situation is actually quite alarming. Sharks are still being tenaciously hunted. There is another way fishermen are able to sell shark meat. There is a law which states that if a dish contains 3 types of fish, its contents do not have to be declared. Thus shark meat can be found in dishes and products that you would never even think contain shark.

An initiative that should be continuously supported is the separate classification of sharks and fish. Sharks should be a special class which should come under a global protection system in order to conserve these majestic creatures.

Sadly, on the east coast of the United States of America, shark fishing competitions are taking place. And not even the catch and release kind. The organizes are cynical and ask the participants to weigh the sharks on shore. Thus, boats return with dozens of dead sharks in order for them to be weighed. What is even more alarming is that a lot of big companies are sponsoring these atrocities. You can read more here:

We think that each of us can do something, anything in order for these photos not to go in the “Extinct” section of a nature book. You can see more photos: Image Gallery

You can find out more about our projects here: Projects

Thanks to our partner – Olympus Romania for underwater photography system.