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THE BAHAMAS – SHARK DIVING CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

 

I have wanted to visit The Bahamas for a long time, and not too laze on its tropical beaches or to dive its coral reefs. No the only reason I have wanted to visit The Bahamas is to see sharks, lots of sharks, lots of really big sharks – as The Bahamas is the shark diving capital of the world.

 

Of course it is very expensive to fly from Australia to The Bahamas, so I needed a very good excuse to visit and turning fifty seemed the perfect opportunity. So we booked a week of diving on the liveaboard Dolphin Dream with a group organised by Eli Martinez from Shark Diver Magazine. Dolphin Dream is a 26m long expedition charter boat that caters for twelve clients. Berthed at Riviera Beach in Florida, Dolphin Dream operates almost exclusively to The Bahamas, offering dolphin, reef and shark diving charters.

 

Arriving at Riviera Beach, which is about one hundred kilometres north of Miami, we loaded our gear, were allocated our cabin (which was quite roomy but with shared bathroom) and filled out our paperwork, which included immigration forms for the USA and The Bahamas. Overnight we headed east, 150km to Grand Bahama our first dive site. The plan was to spend the first three days diving with tiger sharks, but things didn’t quite go to plan as upon arrival at Grand Bahama we were greeted by 40 knot winds. This saw us stuck in the harbour at West End for the first day and half.

 

After lunch on the second day the wind had dropped enough to relocate to the southern side of Grand Bahama, not to a known shark diving site, but just so we could get in the water. We spent a day and a half exploring a local coral reef, but Eli did manage to attract in a few Caribbean reef sharks.

 

Day four and the wind finally dropped, allowing us to head south to Bimini. Here we spent two incredible days diving with bull sharks, nurse sharks and half a dozen great hammerhead sharks. At first the visibility was terrible after all the wind, only 3m, not much fun when you have a dozen large bull sharks cruising around you looking for food. Fortunately with the turning of the tide the visibility quickly improved, opening up to 10m, then 20m and then over 30m – perfect for watching some of the most mind-blowing shark action we have ever seen.

 

To keep the hammerheads interested Eli and Sonny, one of the crew, would take turns to take groups of six divers down and feed the sharks. It was just incredible to have so many great hammerheads, all around 3m to 4m long cruising around you only inches from your face. These animals are usually very shy, and in the past I have had only one brief encounter with this species, almost thirty years ago.

 

We got countless photos, but often found ourselves just staring at the hammerheads like they were a creature from another planet, and with that metre wide head they easy could have been. We didn’t feel threatened or uncomfortable with the hammerheads at any time, they are just not aggressive towards divers, but the bull sharks were more of a concern, sneaking around behind us, but they were too shy to take any of the baits on offer.

 

After two amazing days we headed north to spend our last day off Grand Bahama, at a spot called Fish Tales. Some of you may have heard of a dive site called Tiger Beach, well Fish Tales is just nearby and even better. As soon as we anchored we were surrounded by sharks, we have never seen so many sharks cruising around at the surface. There must have been over a hundred sharks – lemon sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, nurse sharks and one large tiger shark called Hook.

 

We spent all day feeding and photographing these spectacular sharks, always surrounded by a dozen or so at any one time. The tiger shark was impressive, but our favourites were the lemon sharks, which were all 2m to 3m long, and all over the place. The lemon shark is one of the only species of large shark that can stop swimming and rest on the bottom, and they are so use to divers, and seemed to enjoy our company, that they would stop beside you, almost like they are snuggling up. Eli even has one that likes to be patted, stopping on the bottom with its head between his legs. After each dive at Fish Tales I surfaced with the biggest smile on my face, and believe that this spot must be the best shark diving site on the planet!

 

I can honestly say I had a great fiftieth birthday and will never forget the incredible sharks of The Bahamas!

 

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