Open Water – Swimming With Sharks

After watching the movie, Open Water I had to tell everyone I knew that it really is not like that…

Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

About 50 miles from Palm Beach Fl is Grand Bahama Island and the town of Freeport. There’s not much on the island except a few casinos and resorts, vacation homes and condos. The best fun to be had is on Wednesday night at the Fish Fry, on Tanio Beach. Great, cheap food; locals and tourists flock, and everything slows down about 11pm. The rest of your time will be spent on the beach, in the casino, or buying overpriced items at the bazaar; unless you fish or dive.

Arriving in the Bahamas and getting to the hotel, I am always anxious to get into the water as soon as possible. I call the dive shop to verify I am on the next boat and ask the question, “Have you seen many sharks lately?”
The waters around the Bahamas are shallow and warm. Conditions are great for bone fishing on the flats, or deep-sea fishing on some of the ledges. Dorado, Sailfish and Wahoo are all in abundance as are sharks: Silky, Caribbean Reef, certain types of Hammerheads, Bulls, Nurse, Tigers, and many others frequent these waters. Both aggressive and non-aggressive types can be found.

shark1_001When I am on the dive boat I try to be the first one in. I will sometimes see what gets scared away with all the noise. After I hit the water and take my first breath I look down, and in the Bahamas there’s always a good chance a shark will be below. Unless on the shark-feeding dive, I have never had one seek me out. When I do come across them they keep their distance. They never get closer than 5 feet or so, though, for some people, that’s plenty. I try to be the first or only diver around a wall or coral head. If not a shark, an eagle ray or porpoise may lurk around it.

shark2_001Several dive operators can take you to see these guys up close. In Freeport, Xanadu-Divers are the only ones doing shark dives right now. These pictures were taken on several dives with them. A few of these pictures were from the shark dive where a feeder in a chain suit hands out snacks while you sit at the bottom and watch as the sharks swim around you, at times even swimming right through you to get to the feeder.

The feeder dives have been outlawed in the US. Many feel it draws these animals close into shore and makes them associate humans and divers with food. After diving, surfing, and fishing these waters my whole life, I can say with some certainty that am split on the argument. I have always known of their presence in the area and made my decisions about my forthcoming activities accordingly. Even diving outside the area where the shark feeding is done, the sharks will show up and leave again. The same shark will even sometimes shadow you several times on the same dive. It makes for an amazing experience!

shark3_001Diving with these creatures can be as dangerous or as safe as you make it.
1) Dive with a reputable operator or a boat captain who knows the waters.
2) Learn the different types of shark and their behaviour.
3) Let someone know when you are due back and whom you went with. Check in after your dive.
4) Keep your hands to yourself! You wouldn’t try and pet a mountain lion that just walked into your yard, would you!?

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