TIGERS OF BAHAMAS

TIGER SHARKS. People fear them, controversy surrounds them and underwater photographers and adrenaline junkies, like me, seek them out. While their habitat worldwide is huge, stretching across much of the tropical and temperate zones of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, there are few places where tiger sharks are habitually seen.If you want the best chance of seeing them in shallow, warm water with great visibility, Tiger Beach is the place to go. more than 600kg. Fun fact: their stripes fade with age, so basically they go grey when they get old. We were likely to see only females, and from the previous week’s reports, several were pregnant.
The sharks of Tiger Beach are becoming so well-known that many have been given names. Our dive-crew spoke lovingly of Princess, and Emma, and how to identify them and others.
Finally, it was time to enter the water. With the safety diver positioning us, we formed our semi-circle around the feeder, with the area in front of her open for the sharks.
It didn’t take long. About the time I got situated in my spot (we were deliberately overweighted to keep us anchored to the bottom) one was swimming right into the open space between us.
The tiger glided towards the feeder like a model on the red carpet laid out in front of us. Cameras flashing, she went straight to the feeder and was handed a fish.
Seeing the tigers here was so different to what I had expected. I had seen brief glimpses of tiger sharks in other places, including a few slightly nerve-racking dives in Hawaii where their behaviour was questionable, and remarkably different to what I saw at Tiger Beach.
These tigers were like puppy dogs – well, 500kg puppies that moved like trucks. Their massive bodies moved slowly in a straight line towards the woman with the fish-bucket in front of her. She looked like little more than a wisp of black neoprene compared to them.
A shallow sandbank off the Bahamas, Tiger Beach has become one of the top destinations to see tiger sharks, with sightings almost guaranteed, especially from October through June.
Several day-boat and liveaboard operations visit the area, bringing divers face to face with this apex predator.
Liveaboards are my preferred method of getting the most out of a dive trip (and the food is usually fantastic), so I set out with Master Liveaboards for a week of tiger-shark diving.
It took about 12 hours to get to Tiger Beach from Freeport, Bahamas. We stayed in the same general area all week, leaving the schedule wide open for shark-diving.
There were two types of dives: feedings, where a shark-handler would give fish to the sharks; and “open pool” sessions, where no active feeding occurred but there was bait hanging on the surface from the boat to attract sharks.
These tigers are known to be docile, but you could still feel the anticipation. We were willingly going to jump into the ocean near a bucket of fish-guts and wait for the sharks to come. I couldn’t wait.
Arriving mid-morning, we were briefed on the sharks and rules. Tiger sharks, named for their dark, shadow-like stripes, can grow up to 5m long and weigh e than 600kg. Fun fact: their stripes fade with age, so basically they go grey when they get old. We were likely to see only females, and from the previous week’s reports, several were pregnant.
The sharks of Tiger Beach are becoming so well-known that many have been given names. Our dive-crew spoke lovingly of Princess, and Emma, and how to identify them and others.
Finally, it was time to enter the water. With the safety diver positioning us, we formed our semi-circle around the feeder, with the area in front of her open for the sharks.
It didn’t take long. About the time I got situated in my spot (we were deliberately overweighted to keep us anchored to the bottom) one was swimming right into the open space between us.
The tiger glided towards the feeder like a model on the red carpet laid out in front of us. Cameras flashing, she went straight to the feeder and was handed a fish.
Seeing the tigers here was so different to what I had expected. I had seen brief glimpses of tiger sharks in other places, including a few slightly nerve-racking dives in Hawaii where their behaviour was questionable, and remarkably different to what I saw at Tiger Beach.
These tigers were like puppy dogs – well, 500kg puppies that moved like trucks. Their massive bodies moved slowly in a straight line towards the woman with the fish-bucket in front of her. She looked like little more than a wisp of black neoprene compared to them.

Her bait attracted not only the sharks, but also a cloud of fish that seemed so dense I didn’t know how she could even see the tank-like animal approaching her. When she moved the fish moved, creating a swirl of life always surrounding her.
After getting its treat, the shark passed behind us, circling back to the start of the runway and coming in for another. Then another shark joined in.
The blunt nose of the tiger shark, viewed head-on, is massive. It’s this big, rectangular frame coming straight at you, but slowly, calmly.
Some of the divers were “armed” with a white pole that they kept in front of them
so that it could help direct a shark away if they felt it was too close.
Those of us with big cameras could do the same. We were told to maintain eye contact with the sharks at all times.
It was nothing short of amazing. These humongous animals almost seemed to line up for their fish snacks, getting one and then waiting their turn for another.
The open-pool dives were blocks of time in which we could jump into the water for as long as we wanted, and included some of my favourite dives.
Without having to be positioned around the feeder, I had more freedom to find better photographic angles and lighting situations.
While the tigers would cruise by occasionally, the other shark species tended to be the stars of these dives.
I was entranced by the smug-looking lemon sharks that seemed to sneak up behind me, always low to the sand.
There were also grey reef sharks and the occasional nurse shark (which were known to suck the fish out of the bait- crates hanging at the surface).

 

DIVER JULY 2019

 

 

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