Talking Shark Week with… Pieter Valk

Pieter Valk has been working with Save Our Sharks from the start, but this year he was also involved with multiple activities of the Dutch Caribbean Shark Week 2017 here in the Netherlands. We asked him about his story, motivation and bucket-list of shark species!

To kick off, tell us more about yourself!
In my daily life, I am a PR-advisor among some other things. That means that I support organizations and brand to promote their name and brand. For this reason, I also came into contact with Save Our Sharks, as the project leader Irene Kingma, already asked me to work with her on some previous projects. That’s why I informed the media for many years about bycatch, fisheries quotas, the deep sea and the Common Fisheries Policy. Since I had no prior experience with any of these subjects, this opportunity opened up a new world to me. I didn’t have any experience with shark-related subjects prior to this, and to be honest, they scared me a bit at first. But, I did have experience with organizations working on animal welfare and garbage littering. In addition, I have compassion for everything that lives and grows on this planet. That is why I had a good feeling for this cause, and I quickly learned more about the need to conserve sharks. Now I can’t stop watching videos of dancing baby rays, zebra shark pups that crawl out of their egg-case and I am often the first to stand up for these beautiful animals

I love to travel, and together with my husband Dave I often explore the wide world around us. We both lived on many different places, so we are both very fortunate to have friends and families on a lot of wonderful places around the world. But, one of my most memorable trips was with Save Our Sharks. With a small delegation of press and with Save Our Sharks ambassador Jörgen Raymann, we visited the islands of Saba, Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius, Curacao and Bonaire during the Dutch Caribbean Shark Week in 2016. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a shark in the wild during that trip, but since then I feel more connected to the area. Visiting the Dutch Caribbean had been on my bucket-list for a long time, together with landing on the famous airports of Sint Maarten and Saba. Because of this trip, I was able to cross multiple items from my bucket-list. Every now and then, it was a bit difficult to realize the trip was actually for work.

How are you involved with the Dutch Caribbean Shark Week (DCSW) here in the Netherlands?
Actually I was involved with all the projects, although not as organizer, but more on the sidelines watching how we could bring the events and results to the attention of the media. As soon as we have scientific success or organize something it is important to decide how we bring this to the media here in the Netherlands. Do we share it only as one feature? Or do we send it directly to all the media? And how do we make sure people find out about these events? For example, during the DCSW we want to share news about the events with the media in the direct vicinity of the events (both in the Netherlands and on the Caribbean islands). Fortunately, we have an awesome and passionate team of people, and we always keep each other focused towards the goal. I am very proud of the media-attention we generated so far for this project. I believe this is the first time that a client of mine has been on TV so often. In addition, media have written great articles on our work both in print and online. Together we put the brand Save Our Sharks on the map.

What is the most memorable moment you had with a shark or ray?
During the trip with the press, Stinapa Bonaire organized a beautiful snorkel tour. I have this strange eye and balance problems, causing me to have problems in environments with changing pressure. This bothered me a lot during a snorkel tour in Thailand so I had mixed expectations when we entered the water in Bonaire. The guide, as beautiful as a mermaid-like lady, actually explained everything so clear that I got comfortable really fast. I feel we have been snorkeling in that blue water for hours, which was an extraordinary experience. And all of a sudden, this Southern stingray appeared close to me which made the experience even more unforgettable. Since that moment I have become a snorkel-fanatic, as I bought my own fins, dive mask, snorkel and a fish identification guide that same afternoon. After the trip with the press, I stayed on the island for one more week and snorkeled for hours each day. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any sharks, but a month later back in the Netherlands I saw one for the first time. We were on the Eastern Scheldt with Sportvisserij Nederland (recreational fisheries organization) trying to catch, tag and release sharks. For this event, we invited different media and the group was so big that we needed two boats. We were fishing with good quality bait and were catching everything, except sharks. When we heard that the other boat just caught a rare stingray, we started to give up hope. Just as we were ready to leave the fishing spot, one of the rods went off. We reeled it in and on the other side of the line was a starry smooth-hound shark of just over a meter in length. For the real die-hard shark fans probably nothing new, but it was a unique experience for me! We tagged the shark and quickly released it back into the water.

Which shark or ray species tops your bucket-list at this moment?
Due to the balance problems I have, I will never be able to dive. But I would really like to see a wild shark in the future. It doesn’t have to be a white shark right away, but a nurse shark or Caribbean reef shark would be very cool! I’ll have to be lucky spotting one of those from land, or I have to go with one of those glass-bottom boats. But even a small fin on the horizon will do for me!