Our 2019 Bahamas Shark Diving Safari in a Nutshell
by Jennifer Idol
The first time jumping into Tiger Beach with lemons, tiger sharks, and reef sharks is unforgettable. For many of our guests, this was their first time for close encounters with sharks, especially the tiger sharks. It was a trip filled with laughter, challenges, and some very memorable shark experiences.
Rough conditions and low visibility required we dive on a nearby Bahamian reef, Bootle Bay, for our check out dives the first day. This extra time allowed divers to correct weighting and camera settings before being in the spotlight for shark opportunities. We saw effects of Hurricane Dorian underwater on the reefs, now covered by sand. This sand contributed to a dusting that worsened visibility throughout the trip, but improved on the last day. At the end of the day, we prepped gear for Tiger Beach.
As we woke up to our dive site, lemon sharks danced around the Dolphin Dream in the morning sun. We were all eager to greet these lovelies. Only a dive briefing stood between us and our shark adventure. This group of divers was all smiles as we prepped gear and prepared for our first swim around Tiger Beach.
The first time we jumped in to swim with sharks, we practiced a feeding formation to prepare for the tiger shark dives. People often exclaim how dangerous and frightening sharks seem without having learned that they are animals with understandable behavior and do not attack when unprovoked. In fact, it takes feeding them to bring them close enough to see. So when everyone found the visibility to be diminished due to low tide, it was incredible how wonderful the experiences were and how much we learned about how the sharks move.
Though low visibility due to low tide, wave height, and current prevented a morning tiger shark feed, we were able to squeeze in two dives with Caribbean reef sharks and our first tiger shark feeding dive. Everyone was thrilled to encounter the sharks and started sharing their shark stories for how close they could get. At one point the reef sharks seemed to lose interest in us, so I called them over. We finished the day admiring sunset with lemon sharks.
Diving with Tiger Sharks
The forecast was foreboding for the next couple of days, so we worked hard to dive as much as possible this day. We began the day early with some non-baited photos of lemon sharks at sunrise. We were enamored with them and looked forward to a lemon shark feeding, but not before we cashed in five dives this day.
Our practice the previous day was rewarded with three organized feeds that gave everyone in the group ample opportunity for views of the six tiger sharks that visited.
No one cared that we were diving in low visibility because these sharks are impressive. Their markings are beautiful and their size is commanding. They love to circle the entire group and were very organized the first dive because the strong current sent the smell of our bait box downstream. They hung around a little during our swim after the feeding so we could also swim with the tiger sharks and not just see them while sitting in the sand.
Feeding Divers and Diving Away the Calories
Two days of 6-10 foot seas kept us in protected shallow water near the dive site while we waited for our next opportunity to head back. We had gotten to know one another fairly well and tried all kinds of shenanigans to blow away the clouds, calm the seas, and dance for hammerheads. We also watched every BBC oceanic video available and Sharkwater, a documentary produced by Rob Stewart. We talked considerably about protecting sharks and what we can do to create more images that share their story and why it is so important to keep sharks alive and ban finning. Fortunately, we would get that opportunity.
In the meantime, Chef Cory took the spotlight as he produced excellent and abundant food throughout the trip. Wetsuits seemed to tighten throughout the week, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying his home cooking. I also led everyone in a tutorial on editing with Lightroom.
Weather finally started to calm down and we hurried to Tiger Beach to get in four dives with two tiger shark feedings. No one surfaced under an hour and everyone lingered underwater as long as possible while we kept shooting away.
Sunrise Surprise with Lemon Sharks
With just one evening and one day left, we made the most of our time at Tiger Beach and created some lemon shark snaps at sunset. Shooting images of lemon sharks was so loved that I pushed for a morning feed at sunrise. We were not disappointed with some split shots before breakfast.
Some silliness may have overtaken us throughout the week as earworms were passed around on dives and bad songs sung during lemon snaps. We even groaned when we realized lemon snaps is a pun for the snapping sound we hear when they close their mouths and as our shutters snap a photo. Though most divers had glass domes and even compact cameras, most of us ventured time on the swim step to try our hand at these experimental photos.
All Good Things
On our last day, we knew it must end, but not before we squeezed in four dives. Usually, only two are possible, but we were well trained for early rising. We joked that the crew longed for us to learn how to sleep, but how could we when we knew there were sharks to see.
By the end of the trip, we were all recognizing individual sharks that we’d seen throughout the week. The tiger sharks are easiest to identify in part because there were only six that we spotted. However, with dozens of reef and lemon sharks, we were excited to start to identify the individuals. Largely, we learned individual sharks by noticing marks on them from fishing and boat encounters that left a variety of scars. While sharks are protected in the Bahamas, they travel to other waters where they are at risk for being caught.
Too Many Good Photos
Despite challenging conditions, everyone created hundreds of images. Two divers overcame their fear of sharks, with the one most scared of sharks asking if he could smear fish oil on himself to bring the sharks closer (we didn’t let that happen, but he did fall in love with them).
Every diver on the trip came away with images of them underwater next to tiger sharks. This is definitely an experience worth returning to! I can’t wait for next year’s trip.
If you’re looking for some fun, join me next November on our Bahamas Shark Safari.
If you can’t wait that long, join Andy on his April Tiger Beach Trip.