A Fish Called Emma: Bahamas Tiger Shark Diving
“Sharks are beautiful animals, and if you’re lucky enough to see lots of them, that means that you’re in a healthy ocean. You should be afraid if you are in the ocean and don’t see sharks.” ~ Sylvia Earle
Last month, I said I would tell you about scuba diving with tiger sharks. Named for their tiger-like, black vertical stripes running along its body, tiger sharks are frequently implicated in fatal attacks on humans. In fact, they are considered to be among the world’s most dangerous sharks, coming in second only to the great white shark. It’s a known fact that Tiger Sharks are not picky eaters. Often called the “garbage cans of the sea”, these solitary and aggressive hunters have earned a grisly reputation for devouring almost anything in their path. Their diet consists primarily of sea turtles, fish, sea birds, squid, venomous sea snakes, dolphins and smaller sharks. However, their stomach contents have also revealed non-edible objects such as paint cans, cow’s hoofs, plastic bags, rubber tires, and license plates. And yes, I scuba dive and photograph these apex ocean predators for shits and giggles and, of course, to dispel myths and misconceptions that sharks everywhere are out to attack and eat you as soon as you enter their wondrous ocean realm.
Shark Diving Capital of The World
“We must go and see for ourselves.” ~ Jacques Cousteau
One of the best places in the world to scuba dive with tiger sharks is at a remote offshore location in the Bahamas nicknamed, Tiger Beach. Hailed as being the shark diving capital of the world, Tiger Beach is in the shallows of Little Bahama Bank, near West End, Grand Bahama Island. Mariners and salvage divers for decades called this bank the Dry Bar. Shark divers re-named this half square mile stretch of powder white sand Tiger Beach in tribute to its fintastic star attraction, and rather cleverly, it was thought if this offshore location was called a beach, it would further protect the sharks by confusing opportunistic shark fisherman about this shark infested scuba diving hot spot.
A Fish Called Emma
The reigning Queen of Tiger Beach has been a wildly spectacular sub-sea superstar here for well over a decade. If she were a Kardashian they would surely have named her Kim. However, shark wranglers long ago christened this tiger shark, Emma. She’s meaty, big, weighs as much as 1400 pounds and imposingly measures 15 feet in length. Whenever she makes the scene, other tiger sharks move out of her way. Emma is a delight for underwater photographers and she wins the award for being the most photographed shark on the planet. The supporting cast of other shark species to be seen here are magnificent animals in their own right. Large numbers of Caribbean Reef sharks and Lemon sharks are virtually guaranteed. In recent years, sightings of both Great Hammerhead and Bull sharks are increasingly becoming more common. However, make no mistake, the tiger sharks are the main attraction.
The Pool Is Open!
“You must be a fish among fishes to study their surroundings and their life.” ~ Hans Hass
All scuba dives at Tiger Beach are quite shallow and generally in less than 25-feet of water. Caribbean reef sharks and Lemon sharks are always the first to appear and can number upwards of thirty, or more. Soon enough the tiger sharks appear. More wary and cautious at first, the tigers generally will circle the dive group numerous times before approaching. Pretty soon it occurs to you that you’re entirely ignoring the Caribbean Reef and Lemon sharks to focus all your attention on the tigers. Tiger sharks being curious by nature make close passes to divers and sometimes may bump into an underwater camera. They have the natural ability to sneak up behind you so every dive plan calls for scuba divers to routinely swivel their heads 360 degrees. Especially, if there are as many as a dozen tiger sharks in the vicinity. Shark photography opportunities are off the chart. During one descent, I photographed a 9-foot Lemon shark lying motionless on the powder-white sandy seafloor with its mouth agape. A remora was swimming in and out of the shark’s mouth cleaning irritating parasites.
Cages? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Cages
“I don’t use cages – I’ve been surrounded by 150 to 200 sharks, not once ever been close to being bitten.” ~ Michael Muller
What if you prefer viewing tiger sharks from the safe confines of a metal cage? One dive charter operator, Blue Iguana Charters, offers their guests both cage and no cage shark diving encounters. In their own words, “With cages we can offer this encounter to a much broader range of divers, and couples who value safety and relaxed diving…after all this is your vacation. As well, we have discovered many of our divers prefer the safety aspect of caged diving. They feel they can relax and shoot the animals without the fear of “bump and bites”. When cage diving, the cage is actually tethered to the dive boat at the surface which allows non-divers to also enjoy close encounters of the tiger shark kind. It’s important to note that trained shark wranglers accompany you underwater and oversee all shark encounters to ensure diver safety, as well as the safety of the sharks. The objective is to make shark interactions benign for all concerned.
I Will Never Dive With Sharks!
“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”~ Judy Blume
The hell you say! Like many people, my wife, Kathryn was afraid of sharks. She once proclaimed, “I will never dive with sharks!” Out of fears for my safety, she did not even want me to dive with sharks anymore. Well, perhaps from seeing the underwater images I was returning home with from my shark diving adventures, or by osmosis, Kathryn said to me one day, “I want to do it! I want to go shark diving.” Surely, I was surprised, but also happy that she wanted to at least confront her fears and freely give it a try. Suffice to say, she absolutely loved the experience, and would do it again in a heartbeat. Today, Kathryn is a dyed in the wool shark advocate whose fear of sharks has been replaced with feelings of rapture.
Shark & Awe
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” ~ Albert Einstein
Tiger sharks are not the terrifying malevolent killing machines of myth and legend. They are apex ocean predators who have evolved to do what they do extremely well in order to survive. I guarantee you there are few experiences in life which can eclipse the jaw-dropping, heart-stopping Adrenalin rush of your first shark dive. And hey, it’s normal to feel some level of trepidation and concern for one’s own safety before your first splash with sharks. It’s no different than knowing the inherent dangers of climbing Mount Everest or, if one is consumed by the insanity which compels one to jump out of a perfectly good airplane with a swath of “ripstop” nylon, some suspension lines and a harness. Humans may be hard wired for survival, but fanatical shark divers will surely tell you, a thrill’s a thrill! The time to go to Tiger Beach is now, before the thrill is gone.
Until our next dispatch, dare to Explore…Dream…Discover.
Tiger Shark Scuba Diving Charter Operators
Phone: (813) 4 – SHARKS
Phone: (813) 474 – 2757
Web site: www.epicdiving.com
Blue Iguana Charters
PO Box 378756
Key Largo Florida 33037 United States
Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas
Stuart Cove’s US Reservation Office
3700 Hacienda Blvd Suite G
Davie, FL 33314 USA
Toll-Free: 800-879-9832 (US & Canada only)
Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures
212 North Federal Highway
Lake Park, FL 33403-3552
Phone: (561) 842-6356
The Dream Team, Inc.
Po Box 530485,
Lake Park, FL 33403-8911