Wall to Wall Sharks!
Walker's Cay Undersea Adventures Delivers
Heart Pounding Dives with Nature's Apex Predator
by Bill Harrigan, Jun. 1997
Remember the Jimmy Buffett lyric, 'Fins to left, fins to the right and you're the only bait in town?' That line kept running through my head as the boat cut through the blue Bahamas water on the way to Shark Rodeo, where a slew of sharks was already gathering. When I stepped off the dive platform, I discovered there were fins to the left, right, up and down. This part of the ocean was filled, wall to wall and floor to ceiling, with sharks! The Shark Rodeo usually attracts about 100 Blacktip and Caribbean Reef Sharks and we had drawn a standing room only crowd. It's hard to count so many constantly moving sharks but everyone agreed the number was closer to 120. What a fantastic sight!
The prospect of diving with sharks is something that crosses everyone's mind when they take up the sport. Some of us look forward to seeing sharks with perhaps the tiniest bit of trepidation; others of us hope mostly to avoid them. Whatever your own feelings, the Walker's Cay Shark Rodeo dive is a unique treat. If you want to see sharks, you won't get a chance like this anywhere else in the world. Where else could you safely dive with upward of 100 sharks in an area about the size of a basketball court? If the thought of diving with sharks makes you squeamish, Shark Rodeo will probably allay your fears. No guests have ever been injured on these dives and everyone's apprehension evaporates quickly when they see the sharks are not interested in them as a food source.
Shark Rodeo was designed to prevent the sharks from associating the bait with the divers. The bait in this case is a frozen barrelful of fishheads referred to, naturally, as the 'chumsicle.' This chilly shark treat is suspended about ten feet off the sandy bottom and the sharks are free to munch on it without any human interaction. After the chumsicle is in place, only a handful of sharks actively investigates or feeds at any one time. The rest of the sharks swim leisurely around the rodeo grounds, where the divers can take a close look at them.
Some fascinating facets of shark behavior show up at Shark Rodeo. For instance, have you ever seen a shark yawn? The sharks cruising the periphery do it occasionally. The motion resembles the lazy, powerful yawn of lions, starting near the shark's dorsal fin and rippling forward, ending with the mouth wide open and those incredible jaws and teeth extended. Gary Adkison, the Walker's Cay dive manager, says sharks yawn frequently and, when one shark yawns it can start a chain reaction, similar to the way one yawning person can set off a whole room full of yawns.
As the sharks swim by you can also see how their eyes resemble those of a cat and how their noses are covered with small pits containing ampullae of Lorenzini. This unique organ allows sharks to detect the minute electro-magnetic pulses caused by the movements of their prey. Shark Rodeo is such a unique opportunity to view these magnificent creatures that several major universities and aquariums are conducting long term studies at Walker's Cay. Many of the sharks have been marked with digital tags that allow an electronic roll call to be taken for the studies.
Walker's Cay Undersea Adventures: I really enjoyed diving at Walker's Cay and it wasn't just because the sharks were such a kick. The people there make diving fun. Manager Gary Adkison and assistant manager Barry Albury are one of the best teams in diving. Both have an infectious enthusiasm that gets everyone up right from the start. They both know Walker's Cay's underwater life like no one else and excel at sharing it with you. Leroy 'Snoopy' Cooper is an SSI instructor and also handles boats with casual expertise. Divemasters Philip Russell and Tony Thomas make sure you have a good dive and seem to have eyes in the back of their heads when it comes to spotting problems before they happen. Ellias Miller is a divemaster in training.
Dive instruction is available from resort course through the PADI Instructor Development Course. Even the Instructor Evaluation is given right on the island. Gary is a qualified instructor for SSI, PADI, YMCA and IDEA, so, whatever your preference, you can find it at Walker's.
Diving the Reefs: The reefs at Walker's Cay are distinctly different from other coral reefs. The living reef grows on top of a fossil coral reef that created a huge limestone buttress over the thousands of years since the last ice age. Full of meandering crevices and caverns, these ancient structures provide many places where you can actually swim through the reef. Topping the fossil substrate is a veneer of living coral, with many beautiful colonies of both hard and soft corals. A Brain Coral formation nine feet in diameter sits on the edge of the reef at Coral Gardens, having begun its life there before the Declaration of Independence was signed. The surrounding reef is home to a resident Loggerhead Turtle, along with many groupers, Surgeonfish and jacks. White Hole is another great dive along a wall of coral. As you swim past the golden Elkhorn Coral near the surface, the reef opens up, with many entrances inviting exploration. Spotted Eagle Rays and solitary Blacktips cruise across the sandy sections between the coral ridges. Caribbean Reef Sharks are often seen resting motionless on the bottom at Shark Alley but you are also likely to see colorful Queen Triggerfish, Queen Angelfish, Yellowfin Groupers, Banded Butterflyfish and scores of other fish. Not far away, two ocean going tugboats called the Dorothy H. and the Esther K. have been sunk in about 100 feet of water and provide ghostly wreck dives.
The whole area is a living marine treasure and Adkison has been campaigning for several years for park designation, backed by the support of residents and local fishermen. Hopefully the Walker's Cay reefs will soon be given the protection of official national park status by The Bahamas government.
Travel Information: Getting to Walker's is easy and fun. Service is provided by Pan Am Air Bridge, which operates a fleet of twin turbine amphibious airplanes from the north side of the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport. The Pan Am mini terminal is the perfect antidote to the crowded concourses and hectic pace of large airports. Here you can enjoy the personal service of a small, professional operation with the best safety record in the business. When the plane lands in the clear water at Walker's Cay, your vacation has started.
U.S. citizens need a passport or a certified birth certificate and photo ID to enter The Bahamas. U.S. and Bahamas money are interchangeable and the electricity on Walker's Cay is the same as the U.S. standard. Dress is island casual.
Walker's Cay Undersea Adventures is an affiliate of Neal Watson Undersea Adventures, which makes booking easy. One call to (800) 513-5257 will get you the best deals available for each segment of your travel. Outside the U.S., call (954) 462-3400 or fax (954) 462-4100. You can also get more information on Walker's Cay Undersea Adventures by writing to P.O. Box 21766, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33335. The e-mail address is email@example.com and you can find Walker's Cay on the Internet at http:// www.nealwatson. com/walkers.htm.
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