The long version: I booked the two shark dives as part of the Shark Awareness Specialty Course from Stuart Cove’s. The simple goal of this course is to introduce you to the shark. Through an academic program presented by a multi-media presentation, you will learn how to identify different types of sharks, understand some of their behaviors, and learn why this animal is so important to the overall oceanic ecosystems. The course will also teach you proper behavior for diving with sharks and will finish with you completing two shark dives - a free swim with sharks and a shark feeding dive. Upon completion of the academic and open water sections you will be awarded a specialty certification.
Stuart Cove's is a large dive organizer in New Providence, Nassau, Bahamas. With four 48-foot vessels, and seven 40-foot vessels, they have 40 instructors and guides, not including support staff. Prices are reasonable, especially if you book in advance ($95 for two-tank, or $150 for the shark dives). They will pick you up at major hotels and resorts on buses with jump seats in the aisles, and little place for dive gear, other than the isles, or in one of the seats. But the bus was almost on-time, and since I am currently on island time this was just perfect.
The boats are large, and can accommodate up to 30 divers or so. When I went, we only had 7 divers for the shark dives, so plenty of space. The dive site was only about 10 minutes from their harbor, so considering the rough sea that day this was perfect for people who don’t like to do the rollercoaster experience on boats. I am lucky, and have never been sea sick, but it is never fun to watch other people pug their guts out on and/or over board.
Arriving at the dive site offered already an amazing view. A huge turtle was swimming nearby the boat, and under water you could see the dark shadows of 9 feet Caribbean Reef sharks gliding though the water.
The briefings were very informative and professional, but funny at the same time. Especially the briefing from Neil before the shark feeding dive made me laugh a lot. How certain positions will make sharks swimming through your legs and hit you in the nuts with their fin, or how trying to touch one shark will result in a raging envy of the other sharks made me smile. (Of course the real reason is that sticking out your arms will let the sharks think you will feed them, and chances are they will bite your hand.)
First dive was a "free swim" with the sharks on a magnificent wall called Shark Wall. We saw about 10 sharks, and they will follow you throughout the dive because we were close to the feeding site and they know the dinner bell will ring soon. However, no bait was exposed on this dive. This kept the sharks curious and creates a very natural encounter for divers.
Divers form a semi-circle in front of the shark feeder who will place a bait box. The feeder utilizes this bait box and a pole spear to control the release of food which influences the sharks behavior. I've seen a few sharks while diving at Sint Maarten, but nothing like this! At the feeding we probably had over thirty sharks circling around, and between us. An awesome experience for any diver!