Perfect blue water, white sand and a close up of a shark. I was always amazed by the photos taken in the Bahamas. This destination made it on my bucket list a long time ago. I dreamed of seeing the great hammerheads of Bimini as well as the tiger sharks in Tiger Beach. I’ve seen hammerheads and tiger sharks before but not as close and not in this scenery.
I remember this as I am sitting in a hotel in Bali trying to figure out where to go next with my visa expiring in two days. I find a great last minute offer, one of the last tours of the season for the great hammerheads which only starts again in several months.
However, I was not able to get my place on the tour confirmed by the time I book the flights the next morning. Two hours later I left Bali, 40 hours on planes and in airports awaited me. After half the trip in San Francisco I finally get the confirmation for the diving with great hammerheads. What a relief! Even for me that was a bit too spontaneous and insecure.
Turquoise water and white beaches
Looking forward to turquoise water and white beaches I am a bit surprised to arrive to grey sky and rain. I check in to my room at the marina where the whole group of 8 divers and 3 guides stay. As I only got a couple of hours sleep since I left Indonesia I only leave the room for a short walk to a restaurant for dinner.
The next day the sky clears up but due to strong winds we can’t go diving. The winds cause high waves as well as bad visibility by stirring up sand from the shallow dive site. To make the best of this “dry” day we rent two golf carts and explore the island.
Bimini is pretty small and a considerable part of the island belongs to a resort. Cruising around in a golf cart and exploring the beaches is a lot of fun anyway. However, we all would rather be in the water with the great hammerheads.
Finding the great hammerheads
The next morning at 10 am we meet at the boat again where we get the good news. We finally can go out to find the great hammerheads. Wohooo! Our scuba gear is still ready on the boat from the day before, we just have to bring our cameras. Quite a collection of photography equipment has to be stored somewhere safely till we reach the dive site.
A short boat ride later we arrive and the crew starts chumming the water immediately. Chumming in this case means that “chum” (fish pieces, blood) is mixed with water and released from the back of the boat to attract the sharks. This practise is also very common for fishing. None of us is interested in fishing right now but in that big shadow arriving shortly after the chumming starts. We already get pretty excited.
However, it is not a great hammerhead, it’s “just” a nurse shark. In most places a nurse shark would be very special, not so in the Bahamas while waiting for hammerheads. I have no clue how the crew could tell by just a glimpse which type of shark it is. I stare down on the shadows for a while, I know all these shadows are nurse sharks but I couldn’t tell.
After a while I have to move away from where the chum is prepared, my stomach is not too happy about the smell. I’m not very sensitive normally. Maybe it is because my body is still coping with the long travel and the time difference of 12 hours (including flying through the international date line which I found especially confusing).
Suddenly everyone starts to run around, look down on the water and point at a shadow. There is a very obvious difference to the other shadows, it is bigger and is moving differently. A hammerhead!
The first person in the water is one of our guides with the bait crate. The crate contains barracudas (dead, in pieces) the hammerheads’ favourite.
The rest of us jump into our wetsuits and put our gear on, trying to be in the water as quick as possible. I’m in, I see the hammerhead right below me.
Oh wow, she’s huge and so beautiful! I find a spot close to the bait crate, kneel down in the sand and stare at the shark. While a second one is approaching I realize that I didn’t even start to take pictures – that’s how stunned I am to see the great hammerheads.
Kneeling in sand
On all our dives we kneel in the sand, to both sides of the guide with the bait crate, in about 6 to 8m (20 to 25 ft) deep water. We are very lucky and see up to 7 sharks each day. The endangered great hammerhead shark is the largest species of hammerheads. The maximum length is 6m (20ft) and they can be found in warm tempered waters around the world. I would estimate the biggest we saw was about 3.5m (11 ft).
Due to the fact that the dive site is very shallow and that we are mainly sitting around one tank of air lasts a very long. My longest dive was 120 minutes (normally on most places a dive is around 50 to 60 min). I use two tanks per day, most of the days with a surface interval (the time you spend above the surface between two dives) of only a few minutes.
Where it all started
The shark diving in Bimini is fairly new. It all started with the “shark lab” baiting the hammerheads in order to tag them. It is officially called the Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation (BBFSF), a non-profit organisation which is collecting information to advance the knowledge about sharks and rays. The scientists tag the sharks to learn more about the migratory patterns and to figure out if the same sharks come back the next season (Oct to Mar). So far at least three sharks have been seen over several years. In total 25 individuals have been tagged so far .
Only a few years ago the first group of fun divers and photographers were taken to the dive site to see the hammerheads of Bimini. Since then the tourism around these graceful animals has grown but the dive site is still not overcrowded with a maximum of 3 boats at the same time while our group was there. The boats are anchored far enough apart so the dive groups are out of sight of each other.
Would I do it again?
I am still stunned by watching those wonderful animals for hours and hours. However, for me it was a once in a life time experience. So far I have stayed away from baited dives and I know that this was the right decision for me.
I felt it was more like visiting an aquarium than being in the nature watching wild animals. Don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with this trip in particular but with my own opinion about how we should treat wild animals. Read more about my opinion about baited shark diving.