Beyond the white sandy beaches dotted with palm trees and beneath the turquoise waters that surround them, lies yet another paradise. It takes a little bit of work to get to, but if you don’t mind slipping yourself into a skin-tight wetsuit and strapping on about 60 lbs of gear, then the experience can be is mindblowing.
I’m talking about shark diving in the Bahamas. There are several places in the Caribbean where you can do this, and around the world for that matter. This post is about the 2-tank shark dive in Nassau, Bahamas with a dive operation called Stuart Cove’s. I’ve also been lucky enough to do one in Freeport, Bahamas, which was just as incredible. It’s called a 2-tank dive because you get two dives on the trip, with a surface interval in between so your body can get rid of most of the nitrogen that may have built up during the first dive. But let’s save the technicalities of scuba diving for another post. Instead, join me on this short journey where you get up, close, and personal with these magnificent and graceful creatures.
The afternoon starts with a boat ride out to the dive site. But before you leave, first things first - you sign a waiver, releasing the dive shop of an liability resulting from… bad stuff. But really, nothing to worry about… usually. With that formality out of the way, we get on the boat. The tanks are filled and secured. You’ve already picked out your BCD, regulator and weights, and that notoriously tight wetsuit which makes skin tight jeans feel like baggy.
Heading out to the dive site
On the way
Once we get to the site, the boat’s engine is switched of. You’re away from your hotel or resort. Away from buffets, happy hours, swimming pools, etc. etc. Surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, all you hear is the breeze, the water sloshing around the boat, gently rocking it, and some bad jokes. One by one, everyone does a quick check of their air supply and we enter the water. Once we’re all in the water, we descend to a depth of about 50 feet and find a spot in a circle for an amazing show.
Taking our seats for the show
This is the view of the boat above you. And between you and your ride back home - a school of reef sharks circling around.
After everyone’s taken a seat, the dive master descends with a bait box containing food for the sharks. As if the thrill of a few dozen sharks swimming around you wasn’t enough, you also get to see them being fed by the dive master. The operative word here is ‘see’. As a guest on this dive, you’re here to simply observe and not participate. No touching. In fact, these were some of the rules I recall -
- No touching (yes, worth mentioning again).
- Keep your hands close (translation, ease up a bit on the selfies).
- Knees together when you kneel. The sharks will look for the quickest path to their food. And if that means trying to swim between your legs to get to it, they will. They’re not shy.
- General common sense stuff that I can’t remember.
Thankfully, these rules do not apply to the sharks. These creatures are not shy, remember? They will come close to you. Really close. To the point where they will even brush against you as they swim past you. One even wagged its tail against my head as it passed by. But apparently, it’s only the bait they’re after.
Shark dive with Stuart Cove's in Nassau
Shark dive with Stuart Cove's in Nassau
Shark dive with Unexso in Grand Bahama
Surrounded by sharks in Grand Bahama
Belly shots in Grand Bahama
Time to head back. But first, a selfie.
After a few minutes into the dive, once we’re settled in and pretend that all of this is normal (as if), dinner is served. The dive master uses a long spear to take a piece of food out of the bait box and offers it to the lucky shark that is close by. To say that watching the sharks wrangle the meat and devour it was amazing would be an understatement.
The feeding continues until the bait box is empty and there’s no more food left to offer our newly-made friends. Also what can call this party to an end is the amount of air left in your tanks. But if everything goes according to plan, it shouldn’t come to that. At this point, the dive master leads the sharks away from us and we’re now free to move about. What’s next? I’m glad you asked. But before I answer, here’s a fun fact - sharks continuously shed their teeth and regrow new ones throughout their lives. The shedding often takes place when they eat. And since they just dined with us, there’s a good chance they may have left some souvenirs for us. Free to move about now, the circle of divers shrinks as we all look for our own sea treasures, much like the swarming of kids under a broken piñata at a birthday party. Behold, my plunder from under -
A Caribbean Reef Shark tooth
I’m not going to claim that sharks are completely misunderstood and that you should find one to hug today. Not because that is not the case, but because I am not a marine life expert. Having said that, this was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. To be so close to these amazing and unthreatening creatures was a privilege. An unforgettable one, filled with awe and respect, lest I get carried away in this euphoric moment. The sharks we encountered on this dive are Caribbean Reef Sharks. They’re generally not aggressive toward humans unlike some of their more hostile cousins, the Great Whites. Diving with Great Whites is typically done while inside the safety of metal cages, which was not necessary in this case. Nonetheless, these reef sharks are still creatures in the wild and will defend themselves if threatened. Hence the rule of not touching them or interacting with them in any such fashion. General rule of thumb I’ve learnt through my dives thus far - leave them alone (like you should), and they will return the favor.
If you'd like to try this...
The most common response I get when I encourage people to experience the wonderful world of diving is “But I don’t know how to swim”. The beauty of this sport is that you don’t have to be a great swimmer. But you do need to be comfortable in water, which means at least some minimal proficiency of swimming is a good idea. The key requirement for this activity, however, is that you need to be a certified diver. You can get certified at a dive shop near you or even at your next dream vacation. You can find a lot of useful information here.