Text and Photography by Bill Harrigan
No matter if sharks give you the heebie-jeebies or fill you with fascination, a Bahamas shark dive may offer the most thrilling 45 minutes you’ll ever spend underwater. In The Bahamas you have the unique opportunity to observe sharks at close range, in their natural environment.
You can find a shark dive in almost every part of The Bahamas,
and each one is different. Some are shark feeds and some are not. So, how do you pick one? Here’s an overview of what’s available that may help you choose your thrill.
Long Island Stella Maris Inn started it all 25 years ago, bringing wild-eyed divers on the first shark feeding dives. You can still experience the same thrill at Shark Reef, off Long Island. Divers line up on the sandy bottom, backs to a coral bluff, while the divemaster floats a bucket of bait across from the boat and dumps it into the water. The assembled Caribbean Reef Sharks, Carcharhinus perezi, scoop up the offering right before your eyes.
New Providence You can pick from a whole range of shark dives off the south coast of New Providence, where Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, Nassau Scuba Centre and Dive Dive Dive have all developed their own brand of shark encounters. Shark feeding takes place at two sandy flats adjacent to the New Providence wall, called the Runway and Shark Arena. The shark experience is organized as a two tank dive, with the first dive on the wall. Plenty of sharks are always on hand, cruising the reef in anticipation of the upcoming feed, but they tend to stay farther away from the divers until the second dive, when the food comes out.
Feeders don a full suit of chainmail to hand feed the sharks during the Nassau Scuba Centre shark encounter at the Arena. Twenty or more Caribbean Reef Sharks normally show up. The Stuart Cove’s feeders present the bait on the end of a short stainless steel hand spear, a technique that keeps the sharks a bit farther away at the crucial moment. This style of feeding also permits them to position the shark perfectly in the frame for underwater photography—and to wear only a pair of shoulder- length chainmail gloves. Either way, you get a superb, up-close view of the action.
The popularity of the shark dives has generated a PADI Shark Awareness Course that is offered in many locations in The Bahamas. Divers who want to get even more involved can try one of the assistant shark feeder courses, which allow recreational divers to don the chainmail and feed the sharks themselves!
About an hour’s boat ride from New Providence, out in the middle of the deepest, bluest water you’ve ever seen, is a large yellow buoy known as the Shark Buoy. Since it is the only structure for miles, it naturally attracts a lot of fish life. The main attraction, though, is the slender, graceful Silky Shark, Carcharhinus falciformis. Smaller than Caribbean Reef Sharks, Silkies are open water sharks that can be whip-quick when necessary. Shark buoy dives are always an adventure.
Grand Bahama Hand feeding in full suits is the name of the game off the south coast of Grand Bahama, where the Underwater Explorers Society (UNEXSO) and Xanadu Undersea Adventures conduct their feedings at a site alternately called Shark Junction or Shark Alley. The feedings take place in about 40 feet of water, with an old recompression chamber as the backdrop, and the dive is nonstop shark action from start to finish. Watching the sharks eat is amazing, but even seeing them cruise by at arm’s length is incredible. While a handful of the sharks are jockeying for position when the bait comes out, the rest are swimming slow circles around the area, including around the line-up of divers watching the show.
Walkers Cay Shark Rodeo at Walker’s Cay is an incredible experience. Picture this: a 35-foot deep sandy area about the size of a couple of Olympic pools, surrounded by coral reefs. Add more than 100 Reef and Blacktip Sharks, then dip a frozen confection of fish parts, called a “chumsicle,” into the water and let the fun begin. But, like all of The Bahamas shark dives, this is still a controlled event.
Live-aboards You can expect at least one organized shark dive during a week of live-aboard diving in The Bahamas. Blackbeard’s Cruises, for instance, feeds the sharks at a site south of Bimini called Bull Run, and Nekton Pilot heightens the drama by staging theirs in a Cay Sal blue hole appropriately called Shark Hole.
Sharks at Large Of course, not all shark dives in The Bahamas involve feeding. For instance, divers at San Salvador are often treated to encounters with Scalloped Hammerheads. Nassau’s Lost Blue Hole frequently hosts Whitetip Reef Sharks. Whale Shark encounters have occurred in the Exumas and Cay Sal. In the Abacos, Brendals Dive Center brings divers and sharks together at many of its favorite sites. The live-aboard Sea Fever has been providing shark dives throughout The Bahamas for 15 years.
Wherever you find them, there is nothing like a shark encounter to liven up a dive. If the silhouette of a lone shark in the distance can set your heart hammering, imagine the excitement of swimming with dozens at once!