November 24, 2010

Shark Diving, Bahamas, 2010

So last Sunday was shark diving time. The short version of the whole story: just awesome!

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.

I used Stuart Cove's gear only, since I left all my stuff at home. Packing for a three week business trip did not include my diving gear. The fins I had were slip on fins. I am used to my own fins and the rental fins were not adjustable and since my right foot is smaller then my left, I lost a fin when I jumped in for the first dive. The rest of the rental gear was in top condition, even my wetsuit fitted pretty decent, just wished it was a little thicker. More to that later… You will have to setup your own equipment on board. But the dive guides, crew and captains were helpful, friendly and patient with those who needed a bit of assistance.

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.

Second dive was the shark feeding dive. Unlike ordinary dives you will spend this dive kneeling, sitting or laying on the sand bottom. Hence my remark that the wetsuit could have been a little thicker. Because you are not swimming at all, and tide just came up which brought a stream of cold water through the site, it became very cold after a while. But you only notice that before and after the sharks are pushing you around haha.

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!

The Stuart Cove’s crew included 2 divers that do still photos/video for you to purchase. They were helpful explaining the best way to get good shots safely. The amazing pictures on this blog are from them. Thanks girls!

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