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Where and when can you dive with blue sharks? What's special about them? Are blue sharks friendly? We've been diving with blue sharks in the Azores, an archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Diving in the Azores is good, as you can see plenty of pelagic life. It is also one of the largest whale sanctuaries worldwide. The best time to go diving there is in July and August. To dive with blue sharks in the Azores, you'll have to go to Pico island or Faial!
On July 12, 2021, Sylvia Earle announced the Azores, Portugal, as a new Mission Blue Hope Spot, and went diving with blue sharks. We also had a trip planned to Pico, Azores. We decided to make the most of this trip and try diving with blue sharks ourselves. In this article, we'll tell you everything you need to know about diving with blue sharks in the Azores.
What’s Special About the Blue Sharks?
Blue sharks (Prionace glauca) are among the fastest sharks on the planet! The sharks are slim, with a pointed snout, and long pectoral fins. They can swim up to 70 km/h (45 miles an hour). They have a unique deep-blue color on the top of the body, contrasting with a white belly.
They are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. They are often caught as bycatch by commercial fishing fleets, who then collect their fins.
Where and When Can You Dive With Blue Sharks?
The blue sharks can be found from the surface to about 350 meters depth (1,150 ft). Most often, blue sharks prefer cooler waters, and this is why they can be seen by scuba divers in Cornwall, UK, between June and October, in Cabo San Lucas between January and May, in the Azores in July-August, or in Cape Town, South Africa, between November and June.
Blue sharks can migrate very long distances, and individuals make several trips across entire ocean basins throughout their lifetimes.
In Movements of Blue Sharks (Prionace glauca) across Their Life History, Frederic Vandeperre, from the Centre of IMAR of the University of the Azores, managed to elucidate the migratory patterns of blue sharks: "The study provides strong evidence for the existence of a discrete central North Atlantic nursery, where juveniles can reside for up to at least 2 years. Subsequently, male and female blue sharks spatially segregate. Females engage in seasonal latitudinal migrations until approaching maturity when they undergo an ontogenic habitat shift towards tropical latitudes. In contrast, juvenile males generally expanded their range southward."
Which Diving Qualification Do You Need to Dive With Blue Sharks in the Azores?
To dive with blue sharks in the Azores, most dive shops require a PADI Advanced Open Water certification (or level 2) with a minimum of 50 dives. It's recommended to have a few dives under your belt and feel confident for various reasons.
It's important to enter the water smoothly, not to scare blue sharks. It also requires good buoyancy control, as you mostly stay still during the dive. You only adjust your orientation depending on the sharks' movements. Finally, if you tend to have ear problems, it's better to skip this dive. As divers hang into the blue with no visual reference, it is common to go up and down.
What Happens During a Blue Shark Dive ?
From Madalena, Pico island, expect to have a one-hour boat ride. The blue sharks' dives take place between Pico and Faial islands. Conditions must be almost perfect to go: a flat sea with little or no currents. During the week we stayed in Pico, the dive shop only managed to go once.
Once at the right spot, the dive shop started chumming the water with fish blood, attracting sharks by the smell. The island dive shops told us that as they don't feed the sharks, it does not impact their behavior.
After a little more than an hour, a blue shark finally appeared. I imagine most dive shops do not spend so much time to make it happen, we were lucky it was a special day for me (my birthday!), and the captain went the extra mile for us!
Have a look at this short film we edited thanks to the videos our friend Cedric took of this experience!
Softly, we got in the water, one by one. The dive shop hung out a bucket with some fish parts at the back of the boat. The sharks could not access the fish parts as the bucket into a net.
We were hanging on a rope between 8 to 12 m (26 to 39 ft), in a vertical position, and by buddy pairs.
We could observe the blue shark swimming around us and being curious about the bucket. We were impressed by its beauty and realized the chance we had to observe such a species.
After almost 40 minutes, the blue shark swam away.
Can Chumming Impact Negatively the Blue Sharks Behavior?
It does happen that blue sharks don’t show up at all, which is, in a way, a good sign.
The blue shark was attracted by the smell of the basket, and was curious about it. The shark never showed any aggressive behavior.
When we observed it, it did not seem to be associating humans with food.
However, we leave it to the experts to answer this point on which we'd love to know more.
Would We Dive Again With Blue Sharks?
Blue sharks are amazingly beautiful, and I'm grateful to have been able to see one. Since we could not go to the Princess Alice dive site that week, as the conditions were not good enough, we felt we would miss out on another unique Azores experience not going on the blue sharks dive. Seeing big pelagic was indeed our main motivation to go to the Azores.
However, as the experience was "controlled", I did not feel any "wow effect" of seeing an unexpected species in the water, or thrill.
There was no spontaneous interaction between the divers and the sharks, as you need to stay hanging on a rope. It felt a little bit like going to the zoo vs. going to a safari.
After having seen many sharks in their natural environment, in Cabo Pulmo, Mozambique, French Polynesia, and more, I had always strongly refused to engage in any type of shark diving. I was tempted by the Blue Sharks Diving as it involved chumming, not feeding, and we could not go to Princess Alice that week. The price was not cheap - it costs around 200 euros for the dive, whether you see a shark or not.
If you ever have to choose between going to Princess Alice seamount (in an uncontrolled environment) to see Mobula rays and plenty of life, or diving with the Blue Sharks, I would definitively recommend Princess Alice. It feels like a much more complete and natural diving experience.
To read more about diving in and around Pico island, read our article on Diving the Azores
What Else Can You Do in Pico Island, Azores?
We could not write this article without mentioning several things not to miss in Pico island, Azores! First, you need to drive all around the island, which is stunning. Stop by the Whalers museum, Museu dos Baleeiros, and watch its good old film, pictures, and artifacts.
It is hard to believe an island that used to be a hotspot for whaling until the 1980s is nowadays entirely dedicated to eco-tourism!
Hikers can also climb Mount Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal. Don't forget to climb before diving (and not the other way around).
Last but not least, we discovered two excellent restaurants on the island, to which we went several times along the week as the food was so spectacular!
Our favorite was Casa Âncora, in Saõ Roque do Pico. They do not take reservations so show up when they open at lunchtime and diner, or much later.
For a sunset drink and excellent appetizers, simply sit on the terrace of the Clube Naval de São Roque do Pico, at a walking distance from Casa Âncora.
Closer to Madalena, we also recommend going to Cella, which has won an architecture prize and has a good range of wines, many of them from the island!