Sharks have gotten themselves a nasty reputation from JAWS and the rare, although heavily publicised bites that happen along the coasts. Despite the amount of fear spread through out mainstream media and film, diving with sharks has grown to be an incredibly profitable industry. Just in the Bahamas, diving with sharks brings in over $113 million USD.
Photos of the Bahamas sharks have dominated my Instagram and facebook for several years, so when I had the opportunity to travel there I knew that they were a must do on the itinerary. Stuart Cove Dive is the dive shop that comes up first during any google search, or any talk about the Bahamas. When I got there I could see the reason. Five boats each with a full set of various underwater activities on board. Snorkelling, diving and even those underwater scooter diver things. I felt like I walked into a well smoothly running gears in a giant well oiled machine. There were shop assistants dealing with sighing people in, dive masters handing out gear, Instructors leading customers to their seats and a constant blur of pink shirts getting everyone organized and onto their respective boats.
How they managed to fill three boats with divers and have us all geared up, certification checked and sitting in our places on the boat I have no idea. The whole thing could not have lasted more than 30 minutes and there we were : speeding along the crystal blue waters to the shark diving site.
10 minutes later and we were at the site with the beautiful coast line of Paradise Island to one side and the bluest waters imaginable everywhere else. While we were gearing up the cute little Caribbean reef sharks started swimming up to the surface to welcome the divers. Since they get fed at this site daily they already know what to expect when the dive boat pulls up.
As soon as I jumped into the water and peaked below the surface, the 30m visibility unveiled several silhouettes of Caribbean reef sharks swimming right above the sea floor. I hurriedly gestured at my buddy to follow me into the water so we could descend right away. The 18 degree current less water was inviting and the sharks were building up my adrenalin. I might have even emitted a few high pitched squeaks of excitement.
And we were off, sinking through the warm water impatient to reach the bottom. Both my buddy and I are experienced divers so we equalised quickly and found ourselves just meters away from the sharks within a minute. The graceful apex predators were swimming in and out between the divers, with more constantly appearing from every direction. During the first dive there were around 15 there, with a distinct female individual with a broken jaw. The other dives on the boat had told us about her, they had named her The Joker and she had been coming to this dive site for over 10 years!
I was saddened to see how many of the sharks had hooks trailing out of their mouths. Clearly fishing here was a popular sport and many sharks fell victim, whether targeted or not. Often fishermen simply cut the line to avoid breaking their rod, to not tire themselves out or simply claiming that the hooks they purchased were bio degradable. Of course, this is very rarely the truth and sharks sometimes live years with the hooks imbedded in their mouths. That is : if they are lucky. Sharks also have extremely sensitive tissue to foreign objects so quite often infections occur. These have been known to cause serious disfigurement and hinder the shark from catching its own food. Luckily The Joker had been able to survive past her mutilation.
The first dive entailed swimming to a few wrecks when in reality all I wanted to do was to watch the sharks. They are honestly my favourite animals in the world.
The second dive was the one all the instructor was saying is the highlight of everyone’s holiday. This was when the shark feeder put a full body thin mesh suit to protect his body from the shark teeth and prepared his bait box. I have always had mixed feelings about shark feeding, but I decided I should probably witness one before pointing fingers. We hopped into the water for the second dive just as excited and settled down in a circle around some rocks placed there by the dive shop. The downside about this particular arrangement is that within a few minutes I started getting cold despite my 3mm wetsuit and 28 degrees.
Once all the divers were settled behind their rocks, holding their Go Pros tight to their chests, the shark feeder in his hammerhead hat descended to the center of the rocks. 30 Caribbean Reef sharks started swarming him in all directions. They were half nuzzling, half nipping at him, they just could not wait to get inside the bait box. Sure enough, as the feeder started pulling out chunks of fish the swarming sharks fought to get the first bite.
For the next thirty minutes we witnessed these beautiful apex predators, behaving in a slightly unnatural manner, eagerly munching on the fish provided to them. It gave us plenty of chances to watch them almost bump into us, swim over us and circle in all manner of directions.
The instructors were definitely right, these two dives were completely unforgettable and I loved every minute of them : even if I was very cold by the end of the first one. As a bonus, we got a chance to look for any shark teeth within the circle at the end of the dive. My buddy managed to find one, but sadly, I forgot it on Stuart’s Cove Diveboat.
In conclusion, I, just like the $113 million USD worth of tourists loved my experience of diving with the sharks in the Bahamas.