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BAHAMAS BIRTHDAY

By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

 

You only turn fifty once, so I didn’t want a normal birthday party, I wanted something bigger, I wanted to be overseas and diving with big sharks. We looked at a number of destinations that featured large sharks, but at the end of the day there was only one choice, a country I had always dreamt of visiting that was still home to healthy populations of big sharks – the Bahamas.

 

With my birthday falling in January it couldn’t have been better timed as this was the best month to see great hammerhead sharks in the Bahamas. We contacted Eli Martinez (of Shark Diver Magazine) who organises special shark diving trips to the Bahamas on the liveaboard Dolphin Dream. The trip over the dates of my birthday had already filled, but the following week was available (this was a year before the trip, these trips fill very quickly) so we booked straight on.

 

A year later we were finally in the USA at the Riviera Beach Marina, Florida, where Dolphin Dream is based. Boarding the boat we could hardly believe the beautiful weather, no wind and crystal clear water under the boat (we even saw a couple of manatees swim by). It looked like it was going to be a great trip, then Captain Scott gave us the bad news - it was going to be blowing 40 knots offshore and the wind wasn’t going to drop until the end of the week. Damn!

 

Overnight we departed for the Bahamas, around 150km off the Florida coast. We expected a rough night, but it was surprisingly calm, and when we woke in the morning the boat was sitting peacefully, maybe the forecast was wrong. We got up to find we were tied up in the harbour at West End, Grand Bahama, and looking outside the harbour looked flat. It wasn’t until we went outside that we discovered that the wind was howling over 30 knots. Welcome to the Bahamas.

 

We should have spent the first three days diving with tiger sharks; instead we were stuck in the harbour for a day and half. Thankfully the food and crew of Dolphin Dream were both excellent, so mutiny avoided.

 

With the wind dropping a little on our second day it was decided to move to the southern side of Grand Bahama, find a calm spot and attract a few sharks. In the afternoon we anchored on a rocky reef, threw in some baits and went diving.

 

Our first dive in the Bahamas ended up being a very pleasant reef dive, exploring a pretty coral reef home to some lovely tropical fish. But the best part of the dive was at the end, as the baits had worked and we had two Caribbean reef sharks. Eli was on the bottom with a box of fish pieces trying to entice the sharks. The sharks took their time, slowly getting closer and closer, until finally they built up enough confidence to feed. At last we had some shark action.

 

The next day the wind continued to blow, but we managed a few more dives with the Caribbean reef sharks off Grand Bahama. But in the afternoon we got some great news, the wind was dropping overnight and we could head to Bimini to look for great hammerheads!

 

The following day the weather was perfect, finally no wind. We anchored off South Bimini and soon had a dozen large dark shapes patrolling under the boat – bull sharks. We didn’t really want bull sharks, as they can keep the hammerheads away, but it was better than nothing. Eli went down with the baits; we all followed only to find the visibility 3m, not the best, especially with 3m long bull sharks on patrol!

 

Once on the bottom we found Eli doing his magic, scraping a fish piece, but only a few nurse sharks were nosing around for a feed, apart from the bull sharks lingering on the edge of the visibility. Suddenly a larger shark appeared, a 4m long great hammerhead – what an incredible creature. It was quickly followed by another, then two more; suddenly we had five great hammerheads cruising around us. Fortunately with the arrival of the hammerheads the visibility started to improve so we could watch these incredible sharks being hand fed by Eli.

 

The great hammerhead is easily one of the most graceful and impressive sharks we have ever seen, and these ones had no fear of divers, and presented no threat to us either. It was amazing how manoeuvrable they are with that wide head, able to turn around literally on a dime. It was also incredible to be watched by their beady eye, perched right at the tip of those weird mallet-shaped heads.

 

We had two amazing days with the great hammerheads and conditions improved with every dive. By the end of the second day the visibility was 40m and we had six great hammerheads circling us.

 

With one more day of diving left it was time to see some tiger sharks, so overnight we headed north to Grand Bahama. After perfect weather for the hammerheads the horrible conditions returned, strong wings and choppy seas, but we couldn’t complain as we woke to find ourselves at a spot called Fish Tales with fifty odd sharks cruising around the boat.

 

With so many sharks on the surface you had to time your entry so you didn’t land on a shark. Once underwater it was an amazing sight, wall to wall sharks; lemon sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, nurse sharks and one very large tiger shark. Eli was already on the bottom feeding the tiger, a 4m long girl he knew quite well called Hook.

 

Once on the bottom the action was staggering, with dozens of sharks milling around us and one big tiger shark pushing through the pack to feed. Tiger sharks are really gentle giants, they move slowly and take their time, but occasionally need to be pushed away when they think your camera might make a tasty meal.

 

Having seen tiger sharks before I was more interested in the lemon sharks, which were all 2m to 3m long. They are a fascinating animal, happy to spent time on the surface, mid-water or on the bottom. I was particularly surprised to see many of them lying on the bottom, allowing us to get right up beside them for photos.

 

We had four incredible dives at Fish Tales, which must be one of the best shark diving sites on the planet. We only had the one tiger shark, not the usual two or three, and she disappeared after the second dive, hunger satisfied. But this didn’t matter as it was a joy to have fifty odd lemon sharks and Caribbean reef sharks circling you at all times.

 

Even with the poor weather the shark diving in the Bahamas was incredible, what an unforgettable birthday present!

 

 

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