Talking Shark Week with… Felix Petersma

Felix Petersma is an Econometrics student and dive master from Amsterdam with a keen interest in the biology of marine life and sharks. Felix was a big help with the organization of Dutch Caribbean Shark Week in the Netherlands and a good friend of the Save Our Sharks campaign.

To start off, tell us something about yourself!
I am a 24-year-old student at the University of Amsterdam and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. I just finished my bachelor in economics with a lot of extra courses in programming and statistics. When I was young I always had the dream to become a marine biologist. Last summer I did a divemaster internship at the Scuba Junkie diveshop in Komodo National Park. My passion for the ocean was always there, as I have always dived a lot, but this experience proved once more how happy I am whenever I am near the ocean. It is a world with a unique balance in which each organism plays its part. I believe that some animals play a bigger role in the ecosystems than others, of which sharks are a good example. My instructors at Scuba Junkie were involved in shark conservation and taught me a lot about the important role these animals have within the marine ecosystems. When I came back to the Netherlands, I started to read more about sharks and I realized even more how important they are.

How are you involved with the Dutch Caribbean Shark Week here in the Netherlands?
I got involved with Dutch Caribbean Shark Week by sending an email which said “I want to help, what can I do?”. After some contact with the organizing team, I started to support them in organizing events for the week. I helped with the opening event of Shark Week at the Ceuvel in Amsterdam. During the event, people could watch the movie Sharkwater by filmmaker Rob Stewart, and in addition to Save Our Sharks NL, other organizations working on shark conservation were present.

 Why did you get involved with the Dutch Caribbean Shark Week here in the Netherlands?
I have plans to go to the Philippines in October to join a research project on whale sharks. Since it is still a while before that starts, I wanted to do something here in the Netherlands. I already quit eating fish and limiting my use of plastics. I noticed that a big problem with shark conservation is that people 1) do not know how important they are for the oceans, and 2) have little sympathy for sharks. The latter is probably a result of movies like Jaws and the image that people receive from sharks in mainstream media. To change this image and the create more awareness for these animals I decided to volunteer during the Shark Week.

What is the most memorable moment you had with a shark or ray?
I think it was the first time I realized that sharks are not the bloodthirsty killers that you see in the movies diving with bull sharks in Mexico. I only had 25 logged dives up to that point and as part of my Advanced Open Water course, my instructor suggested to do a bull shark dive, because ‘they are not dangerous at all’. So the n

ext day we moved to the spot where they often see bull sharks and descended to a depth of 26 meters. A couple of divers had some problems equalizing, so our dive guide indicated that me and my dive buddy could already go down. The seabed was sandy and flat and with a bit of current, so we had to stick our hands in the sand to stay in position. Quite nervously we waited until the first 2,5 to 3-meter long bull sharks payed us a visit. First it was only one, then two, then three, and later even six bull sharks came in. The other divers had now arrived at the bottom and we could not believe what we were seeing. These animals, who could easily do us harm, didn’t do anything. They swam around us, over us, towards us, and then back out again. These are not mindless killing machines, but curious animals attracted by the sound that we were making. After that moment, I had a couple more encounters with sharks, most of them whitetip reef and blacktip reef sharks, but even swimming with whale sharks could not beat my moment in Mexico! 

Which shark or ray species tops your bucket-list at this moment?
I think diving with a large school of hammerhead sharks is the first. That would be an incredible experience. But also swimming with white sharks and thresher sharks are high on the list.

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